Adolph Wertmüller


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Painter. During his American years, he worked principally as a portraitist, but his career encompassed narrative painting as well. In Philadelphia he gained notoriety in 1806 by exhibiting his most famous painting, the titillating Danae and the Shower of Gold (National Museum of Fine Art, Stockholm, 1787). The incident resonates in American art history as one of the earliest instances of public outrage over the moral content of a painting. Adolph Ulrich (sometimes spelled Adolf and Ulric or Ulrik) Wertmüller was born in Stockholm. He trained as an artist there and in Paris prior to working in Rome and traveling through Italy between 1775 and 1779. Before returning to Paris in 1781, he worked in Lyon. Remaining in the capital until 1788, he was admitted to the French Academy and painted portraits of notables including members of the royal family. As the foremost Swedish painter of the day, he was appointed first painter to his native country's king. Wertmüller painted portraits in Bordeaux and Spain before traveling to the United States in 1794 to pursue his career in Philadelphia, New York, and Annapolis, Maryland. His 1794 portrait of George Washington (whereabouts unknown; replica, Metropolitan Museum, 1795) characteristically combines decorative, late rococo taste and glassy neoclassical polish. In 1797 he took up residence in Sweden once again, but returned to Philadelphia in 1800. After 1803 he painted little. He lived for the rest of his life on a farm along the Delaware River about twenty miles from Philadelphia.

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