ALLSTON, Washington
(b. 1779, Waccamaw, d. 1843, Cambridgeport)


American painter and writer, considered the most important artistic personality of the first generation of Romanticism in the USA. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who met him in Rome and whose portrait Allston painted (National Portrait Gallery, London), considered him 'a man of... high and rare genius ... whether I contemplate him in the character of a Poet, a Painter, or a Philosophic Analyst'.

The son of a prominent South Carolina plantation owner of English descent, he began to draw around the age of six, and he moved to his uncle's home in Newport, RI, at the age of eight. While there he came into contact with the portrait painter Samuel King, but it was the exhibited portraits of Robert Edge Pine that offered him inspiring models of glazing and colouring.

Allston spent his working life in Boston apart from two lengthy visits to Europe: during the first, 1801-08, he studied under Benjamin West at the Royal Academy, subsequently visiting France with John Vanderlyn; the second stay in England was from 1811 to 1818. Up to c. 1818 his Romanticism expressed itself in the grandiose and dramatic, and his large canvases exploited the mysterious, monumental, and terrific aspects of nature {The Rising of a Thunderstorm at Sea, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1804). In his later period he was a forerunner of the subjective and visionary trend in American landscape painting, which relied more upon mood and reverie than upon observation or drama, as in his famous Moonlight Landscape (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1819). Through his pupil Morse this type of landscape painting became indigenous to the USA.

Allston's writing included poetry, a Gothic novel entitled Monaldi (1841), and the posthumously published Lectures on Art (1850).

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