American Folk Artist, 1788-1865
American painter. Apparently self-taught, he began his prolific and successful career as a portrait painter c. 1811. During his lifetime, he moved several times across the borders of New York, western Connecticut and Massachusetts in search of commissions. Like many of the itinerant artists of the 19th century, he struggled to achieve pictorial solutions and a distinctive style, yet he developed so dramatically that historians originally classified his paintings as the work of two different artists: 'The Border Limner' and 'The Kent Limner'. The earliest works, from his 'Border' period (c. 1812-19), are marked by simple forms, shaded outlines and soft, pastel colours. They include ambitious full-length portraits as well as three-quarter and bust-length examples (Dr Russell Dorr, c. 1814-15; Williamsburg, VA, Rockefeller Flk A. Col.). In the 1820s he experimented with techniques and formats, developing an attention to detail and naturalism that suggests the influence of Albany portrait painter Ezra Ames. By the 1830s, the decade of his 'Kent' portraits, his compositions present his sitters as large, stylized shapes that nearly fill the canvas, while his use of rich, saturated colours creates striking contrasts of light and dark. Typically in this decade, his female sitters are shown leaning forward while male sitters sit upright with one hand draped over a chairback. Among his most appealing and successful works are portraits of children from this period. Blond Boy with Primer,
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.