Thomas Birch (1779-1851)
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Thomas Birch was an early American landscape painter who was born in England. Birch came to the United States in 1794 and lived in Philadelphia. He initially studied under his father, William Russell Birch, who was a miniaturist and enamel painter of some distinction in his day. Birch worked with his father in 1800 under their business William Burch & Son where they created designs and engravings as well as “View of Pennsylvania.” These “views” were created on a suggestion from the elder Birch and were meant to be imitations of similar British productions. These idyllic settings were meant to show the progress and prosperity happening in the United States as well as the country’s natural beauty.
In 1806, Birch began to paint marine scenes as well as portraits in both watercolor and oil paint. He exhibited his work quite often during his productive, but not very prosperous, career. Birch was an honorary member of the National Academy of Design, and frequently showed his work there, as well as with the Society Artists of Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania Academy and the American Academy. Though he lived primarily in Philadelphia, Birch traveled extensively throughout New England to New Jersey. He also most certainly traveled abroad, as he left behind paintings of France and Spain.
Though he had few patrons, Birch became well-known for his winter scenes, seascapes and paintings of ships. He also was noted for his paintings of naval battles from the War of 1812. He was highly respected by his peers, and today his work is housed all over New England.
While it is not likely that one would find a great many portraits or still life paintings by Birch, it is possible that landscapes and genre scenes of his could still exist, unknown and otherwise unauthenticated. There seems to be little known about the details of his life, and it has been speculated that perhaps Birch did not travel to some of the places that he painted. This leaves a great deal of mystery for collectors of his art…could he have traveled to Europe, or did he remain in the United States after his immigration in 1794? Art historians may never really know for sure, leaving the possibility of his paintings existing in the United States as well as in Europe.
Still wondering about that New England seascape hanging in your family estate? Contact us…it could be by Thomas Birch.