Washington Allston (1779-1843)
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The Flight of Florimelli, 1819
Washington Allston was an early American artist and was one of the most highly respected and admired painters of his time. Dubbed by some art historians as “the American Titian,” Allston was an extremely gifted artist and was paralleled by no other artist in America during his lifetime. Throughout his career, he painted portraits, landscapes, still life and genre scenes as well as religious and fantasy compositions.
Storm Rising at Sea
Allston was born in South Carolina to a plantation owner. He began to show a proficiency in art at the very young age of six. He moved to Rhode Island to live with his uncle when he was eight years old, and soon met portrait painter Samuel King. He eventually attended Harvard College where he earned the name “the Count” from his classmates due to his fashionable appearance and manners.
Hermia and Helena
The Taming of the Shrew
The Opening of the Casket
In 1800, Allston graduated from Harvard and left the United States shortly thereafter to continue his studies abroad. Before he left, Allston returned briefly to South Carolina with his friend Edward Greene Malbone. In 1801, Allston and Malbone left for London to study at the Royal Academy with Benjamin West. Allston and West quickly formed a lifelong friendship.
Elijah in the Wilderness
Head of a Jew
In 1804, Allston left for Paris where he studied and painted for four months. That same year he also traveled to Rome to continue his studies, where he lived and worked until 1809, when he returned to the United States. It was during his stay in Italy that Allston learned the styling of the Venetian school, and his imitation of their methods of using color, shade and light earned him the name “the American Titian.”
Christ Healing the Sick, 1813
Italian Shepherd Boy
Allston left the United States again in 1811 to paint in England, where he stayed until 1817. It is said by art historians that these few years in England were Allston’s most productive in his career. This was when he created some of his best paintings, including what some call his masterpiece, the portrait of his friend Coleridge.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1814
From London he visited Paris again and returned to the United States in 1818. Allston remained in Massachusetts until his death in 1843, first in Boston and then in Cambridge where he continued to paint practically right up until his death. Today, there is even a neighborhood in Boston which bears the name “Allston” in his remembrance.
Landscape with Lake
Although he enjoyed a relatively prosperous career, Allston’s painting began to decline towards the end. Many art critics claim that his allegorical works are his biggest failures, in particular “Belshazzar’s Feast”, which took him more than 20 years to complete.
Despite the fact that he was a painter, Allston was also a well-known poet, and was equally famous for his writing and his painting. Allston was also a teacher and had a number of successful pupils, such as Samuel F. B. Morse, as well as his nephews George Whiting Flagg and Jared Bradley Flagg.
Dido and Anna, 1813
Uriel Standing in the Sun, 1817
Today, Allston’s work is housed all over the United States and Europe, and perhaps in your own home. Still wondering about that early American painting with an Italian flavor hanging in your family’s estate? Contact us…it could be by Washington Allston.