John Smibert


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Colonial America`s First Portrait Painter

Richard H. Saunders

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John Smibert (1688-1751) was the first portrait painter of distinction to attempt to carve out an existence in colonial America. This book by Richard Saunders is both a catalogue raisonné of Smibert's work and a discussion of his life and career.

Saunders explores Smibert's early Scottish and London training as well as his travels to Italy; his portrait practice in London; his arrival in America and his stylistic development; the creation of The Bermuda Group, Smibert's masterpiece; and, finally, the business of portrait painting in Boston.

According to Saunders, Smibert's portraits provide essential clues about the nature of portraiture in colonial society. Saunders discusses the social codes, ethnic prejudices, and religious intrigues that exacted a toll of Smibert and other artists of the period. He also describes how Smibert reconciled the conflicts between his search for spiritual well-being brought about by his Scottish Presbyterian heritage and his struggle for artistic achievement, social acceptance, and financial security. The catalogue illustrates more than one hundred and thirty works by the artist, as well as listing erroneous attributions and fakes.

A Barra Foundation Book

A Barra Foundation Book

Richard H. Saunders is director of the Middlebury College Museum of Art.

"This study of the important colonial painter John Smibert takes him from his early life in Edinburgh to his final years in Boston. The first book to comment on a colonial immigrant artist's earlier career in Europe, it also offers a rich discussion of Smibert's colonial achievements, dwelling on his patronage, studios, triumphs, and disappointments. The book will be an indispensable tool in the study of colonial painting."—Elizabeth Johns, author of American Genre Painting

"Saunders's meticulous scholarship is highlighted by his clear prose and engaging telling of Smibert's life. Of particular interest and usefulness is an extensive catalog of Smibert's works, which includes unlocated and misattributed works. Recommended for collections of American art and history."—Library Journal

"Saunders includes a detailed catalog of the painter's works, and thoroughly examines the man. His book is not only a compelling story of Smibert, but of the social, political, and religious influence on art in colonial America."—Tracy Keegan, Colonial Homes

"The book is an exhaustively researched and copiously illustrated catalogue raisonné. . . . A book of considerable importance in the history of Anglo-American painting prior to the Revolution. . . . A landmark book in the history of colonial American painting. . . . Scholars of early American art and culture will applaud his indefatigable research and welcome the book as an essential reference work of enduring interest."—Deborah I. Prosser, Winterthur Portofolio

"The invaluable catalogue, with its five sections on types of works (accepted, disputed, unlocated, misattributed and fake, and copied); the valuable appendixes, bibliography, and index; unobtrusive notes; and large number of excellent black-and-white and color plates render Saunders's study of interest to the student and scholar of American art and American studies, as well as to the general reader interested in American culture."—Choice

Winner of the 1996 Outstanding Academic Book Award given by Choice Magazine
ISBN: 9780300042580
Publication Date: October 25, 1995
Publishing Partner: A Barra Foundation Book
294 pages, 8 1/2 x 11
284 b/w + 26 color illus.