Washington Allston

(1779—1843) painter and poet

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(b on the family plantation, Georgetown County, SC, 5 Nov. 1779; d Cambridgeport [now part of Cambridge], Mass., 9 July 1843).

American painter and writer, ‘the first important artist working in the United States to embody a personal, Romantic point of view in his work’ (Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists). Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose portrait Allston painted (1814, NPG, London), considered him ‘a man of…high and rare genius…whether I contemplate him in the character of a Poet, a Painter, or a Philosophic Analyst’. Allston spent most of his working life in or near Boston apart from two lengthy visits to Europe (mainly London): during the first, 1801–8, he studied under Benjamin West and visited Paris and Rome; during the second, 1811–18, his work included the huge Dead Man Revived by Touching the Bones of the Prophet Elisha (1811–14, Pennsylvania Academy). This helped establish his reputation, but his smaller works, particularly his landscapes, have appealed more to modern taste. Up to c.1818 his Romanticism was typically expressed in the grandiose and dramatic (The Rising of a Thunderstorm at Sea, 1804, MFA, Boston). In his later period he was a forerunner of the subjective and visionary trend in American landscape painting, which relied more on mood and reverie, as in his famous Moonlight Landscape (1819, MFA, Boston). Through his example, this type of landscape painting became indigenous to the USA. Allston's writing included poetry, a Gothic novel entitled Monaldi (1841), and the posthumously published Lectures on Art (1850), the first art treatise by an American.

Subjects: Art.

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