Charles Loring Elliott


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Painter. New York's leading portraitist after Henry Inman's death in 1846, he occasionally also painted imaginative subjects. His popular portrait style combined romantic stress on individual spirit with contemporary photographic literalism in exactingly detailed, unidealized faces. In later years he actually based some of his less inspired works on daguerreotypes. Although much of his large output repeated poses, compositions, and color tonalities, his best portraits convey lifelike alertness and physical presence. Elliott's male sitters particularly exude the vitality and optimism admired as character traits in mid-century. Fleeting expressions enhance his portraits' immediacy. Rendered with respect but not flattery, Mrs.ThomasGoulding (National Academy Museum, New York, 1858) peers at the viewer with forceful, unsmiling gaze. The eyeglasses she has apparently just removed appear in one hand, providing an enlivening momentary gesture. The artist's unrelenting precision details every item of clothing, as well as the flesh of her middle-aged face. A frilly, beribboned bonnet does little to soften the impression of this dowager's willful personality. Born in Scipio, in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, in 1827 Elliott moved with his family to Syracuse and soon began training as an architect at a nearby academy. Although he became a proficient draftsman, in 1829 he left for New York to study painting. For several months he worked at the American Academy of the Fine Arts, where he had some contact with John Trumbull, and then sought instruction from John Quidor. After about a year in the city, he wandered as an itinerant portraitist upstate. During this period, he acquired a Gilbert Stuart portrait, which he so admired that he kept it with him on his travels. Even in his highly factual, mature technique, Elliot's method of building up layers of paint retained vestiges of Stuart's approach, and he usually followed Stuart's practice of placing sitters against blank backgrounds. In 1839 Elliott returned to New York. From 1853 he lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, while maintaining a New York studio. He moved to Albany not long before his death there.

Subjects: Art.

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