Ralph Earl


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(b Worcester County (?Shrewsbury), Mass., 11 May 1751; d Bolton, Conn., 16 Aug. 1801).

American painter, active in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont, and also in England (1778–85), when his loyalty to the British put his life in danger in his homeland. He painted landscapes and battle scenes of the Revolution, but was primarily a portraitist. Although his style became softer and more sophisticated after studying with West in London, his work generally has a sincerity and freshness of vision that makes him one of the finest American artists of the 18th century. His presentation of character is extremely forthright and his portraits convey the immense pride his New England sitters took in their possessions. Earl's personal life was a disaster: he was imprisoned for debt and died an alcoholic after deserting both his wives in turn. Other members of his family were artists, notably his brother James (1761–96) and his son Ralph E. W. Earl (c.1785–1838), remembered mainly for his portraits of President Andrew Jackson, whose niece he had married.

Subjects: Art.

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