Overview

William Williams

(1727—1791)


'William Williams' can also refer to...

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(1727–91).

Painter. Chiefly a portraitist, he adapted rococo style for an American audience. His paintings display precise detail, delicate coloring, and imaginative charm. Williams's wide range of pursuits and his colorful life suggest an inventive, adventurous personality. Like many colonial artists, he engaged in a range of income-producing activities besides painting. Offering instruction in music and drawing, he was ready also to paint signs and ships as well as undertake other forms of decoration, restoration, and framing. In 1759 he received handsome pay for stage sets, probably the first professionally executed in the colonies. His novel, The Journal of Llewellin Penrose, A Seaman, may have been the first written in North America, although it was not published until 1815 and then only in altered form in England. (An accurate text appeared in the United States in 1969.) As well as conversation pieces adapted from an English fashion, he also apparently painted a few independent landscapes. His personal library of imported books and prints further contributed to his impact on American art. Williams was born in Bristol, England. Apprenticed as a mariner, he abandoned his ship to live for two or three years in the Caribbean before arriving in Philadelphia in 1747. Except for a sojourn in the West Indies between 1760 and 1763, he remained in that city until 1769, when he moved to New York. In 1776 he resettled in London, but several years later moved to Bristol, where he died. Among relatively few surviving works, his full-length representation of fifteen-year-old Philadelphian Deborah Hall (Brooklyn Museum, 1766) numbers among the most imposing. Fashionably attired, she appears in an elaborate outdoor garden setting that provides a dignified ambience of wealth and privilege. Additionally, the surroundings probably allude to her personal attributes through symbolic elements derived from current emblem books.

Subjects: Art.


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