Charles Bridges


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Portrait painter. He ranked as the most significant artist working in Virginia between 1735 and the early 1740s, during the moment when the colony's landed families and Williamsburg elite were eager to establish their dignity, sophistication, and taste. Although Bridges supplied images commensurate with his patrons' status-conscious goals, he supplemented his practice, as did most colonial artists, with decorative commissions. Only about thirty attributed Virginia portraits survive, and little documentation of his career has been found. His one extant English commission dates to many years earlier. Besides furthering his career as a portraitist, the elderly Bridges had a secondary motive for traveling to the colonies: founding charity schools for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, which had employed him in London between 1699 and 1713, before he became an artist. Born in Northamptonshire, Bridges was solidly trained in the late Baroque portrait mode dominated by Sir Godfrey Kneller in the decades around 1700. In his formulaic Virginia work, Bridges extended this taste for ponderous dignity, although he was on occasion capable of a lighter touch, especially in images of women. Little individualized in his conventional wig, velvet coat, and ruffled shirt, a three-quarter figure of Mann Page II (College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, early 1740s) offers an august and imposing presence as he soberly eyes the viewer. Bridges returned to England in 1743 or 1744 and died at Warkton, in the county of his birth.

Subjects: Art.

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