Colonial and Early American Art
For educational purposes
The pineapple motif came to
symbolize prosperity and
hospitality since only the very
wealthy could afford to have it
shipped in from South America.
Pineapple armillary – a
spherical model of the
universe first used by early
Greek astronomers. Relative
positions are represented by
intersecting metal rings.
The woodcut artist John
Foster was a graduate of
Harvard (1667), set up
Boston's first press in 1675.
The portrait of Mather is
thought to be the first
woodcut printed in America
Richard Mather, woodcut portrait by John Foster
Gravestone of Sarah Baker, about 1700,
Copp's Hill Burial Ground, Boston
Skulls, skeletons, coffins, and candle flames were common
images in gravestone carvings of the late seventeenth and
early eighteenth centuries.
The skull represents the brevity of life and the wings represent
the after life
The seventeenth-century painters were also called upon to
create death's heads and other symbols of mourning for
funeral processions of prominent figures.
Elizabeth Clarke Freake (Mrs.
John Freake) and Baby Mary,
about 1671 and 1674.
Artist unknown. Elizabethan style.
Untrained artist– Folk Art
Artists in colonial America
received little formal education in
art and were considered to be in
the same social category as
Most art from this period appears
flat and two-dimensional because
the artists did not have sufficient
training in linear perspective.
It was also the fashion not to
smile in portraits.
Massachusetts law stated
The Puritan ideals
that only the very wealthy
could display extravagant
clothing; sleeve slashes,
could only be worn if
income exceeded 200
pounds per year.
Childhood was not
considered a distinct time in
life separate from adulthood.
Children began to dress as
adults as soon as they were
six years of age.
Portrait Clues: a silver-
rose, a symbol of innocence topped cane and glove.
a fan, a coral necklace
to ward off childhood
The Mason Children: David, Joanna, and Abigail, diseases, a rose for
Attributed to the Freake-Gibbs Painter
American, seventeenth century
Self-Portrait, about 1680
The battle scene in the
background suggests that Smith
was a mariner and perhaps a
Puritan attitudes toward life and
death are contrasted in the soft
pink skin and the gray skull.
This painting marks a shift in
American art from the Elizabethan
to the baroque style using
¾ view light and shadow to show objects
in space, such as the head and
wrinkles, the folds of the lace
This painting is the only 17th century New England painting that is clearly
linked to a known painter and the earliest American self-portrait.
Captain-Lieutenant John Larrabee,
83 1/8 x 50 1/4 in.
Can you find the:
gold handle of a small sword
ships at sea
Larrabee was the commander of
Full length view
Castle William in Boston.
York served Larrabee from the late 1730s
until 1762, when his master died. Larrabee’s
will freed York and granted him a suit of
mourning clothes. It also stated that if York
should become sick or unable to sustain
himself, "I Order that he be Supported out of
John Singleton Copley is considered
the greatest American portraitist of
the eighteenth century. Copley was
the first American artist to succeed
in creating the illusion of a three-
dimensional reality on canvas.
Portrait symbols: a scallop shell
in a stream of water, symbolism
borrowed from an English print.
The shell is an attribute of Venus,
the Roman goddess of love and
beauty, while the water
symbolizes life and purity.
How do you stand? Good
posture still indicates a good
upbringing and a positive self-
Mary Turner Sargent, 1763 image.
John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)
She sat for this painting "fifteen or sixteen times! Six hours at a time!"
John Singleton Copley
Portrait of Mrs. George Turner, 1765
While the word
limner has been
working in this
style, that term
was reserved in
Famous engraving by
Paul Revere - "The
perpetrated in King
Street" in Boston, 1770.
To stir up anti-British
sentiment with the
Paul Revere rushed to
get his print to press.
What inaccurate clues
do you see?
(No snow, blue sky at
night, soldiers in a line,
Crispus Attucks is
shown to be white.
Unidentified artist 18th century Landscape (View of a Town), after 1753
This overmantel demonstrates how eighteenth-century American decorative
painters composed individual paintings from multiple sources, including imported
prints, personal experience, and the imagination.
The painting contrasts work and leisure, as well as town and country.
Wealthy or Poor?
Sailor or Captain?
Artist trained or untrained?
Mordecai Gist, ca. 1774
Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827)
Joseph Blackburn, Isaac Winslow and His Family, 1755,
The group portrait was still uncommon in colonial America.
John Singleton Copley
John Bours, about 1760–62
Bours wanted Copley to
represent him as one
who cared more about
the pursuits of the mind
than the latest fashions.
Mood – pensive
(deep in thought)
The Savage Family, about 1779
Edward Savage (1761–1817)
During this time period
photography was not
mass marketed and
paintings were the main
way people had their
Working class people
could not afford to pay a
great deal to the
painters, so to make the
job go faster the artists
would paint the bodies in
their studios and then fill
in the heads. Often this
made the portrait look
John Singleton Copley “Thomas Aston Coffin”
James Peale Still Life, 1825
The rounded shapes of the apples, grapes, and bowl are
set in contrast with the jagged edges of the grape leaves
A collaborative art form, sign making required sign painters to work
with woodworkers and blacksmiths to provide the sign board and
Sign for Rose’s Inn, circa 1813. Coventry, Connecticut.
John James Audubon
Iceland or Jer Falcon (Plate 366
from the Birds of America), 1826-
Ralph Earl American, 1751-1801
Portrait of Two Brothers
Baldwin Gardiner 1791-1869
Neo-Classical Tea or Coffee Urn
“Folk art" is most often defined as art that is created by individuals who
were not academically trained (although they may have acquired their
skills through apprenticeship, observation, or informal learning).
Ambrose Andrews (ca. 1801-1877), The Children of Nathan Starr, 1835.
Rufus Hathaway (1770-1822) was
John Bradley (active only twenty years old when he
1832-1847), Emma painted Lady with her Pets (Molly
Homan, ca. 1844, Wales Forbes), one of the best-
known portraits by an American
Edward and Sarah
Rutter, ca. 1805
(American, ca. 1763–
Joshua Johnson is the earliest
African-American painter in the
United States with a recognized
body of work.
Johnson was brought to
Baltimore in the 1790s as a slave
for a family that was related to
Charles Willson Peale, the
celebrated portrait painter. Within
a decade Johnson became a
"freeman of color" and was
earning his living as a portrait
An itinerant artist active in towns along the Massachusetts-
Connecticut border, Phillips painted hundreds of portraits over his long
career. Phillips was an untrained rural painter,
Mrs. Mayer and Daughter, 1835–40
Ammi Phillips (1788–1865)
Unidentified artist, Boy
with Blond Hair, ca. 1840-
Engravings of European paintings
were widely available in the
colonies and were a chief source
of information on European art for
American artists until the
beginning of the nineteenth
Copying European art styles was
an accepted practice by which
artists could demonstrate their
awareness of the trends and
techniques used abroad:
*the classical column
All techniques borrowed from
published prints of European
Grizzell Eastwick Apthorp, 1748 nobility.
Robert Feke (1707-1752)
Apothecary mortar and pestle
Coryell’s Ferry 1776 by Joseph Pickett