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Cover for John Smibert

John Smibert

Colonial America`s First Portrait Painter

Richard H. Saunders


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John Smibert (1688-1751) was the first portrait painter of distinction to attempt to carve out an existence in colonial America. This book by Richard Saunders is both a catalogue raisonné of Smibert's work and a discussion of his life and career.

Saunders explores Smibert's early Scottish and London training as well as his travels to Italy; his portrait practice in London; his arrival in America and his stylistic development; the creation of The Bermuda Group, Smibert's masterpiece; and, finally, the business of portrait painting in Boston.

According to Saunders, Smibert's portraits provide essential clues about the nature of portraiture in colonial society. Saunders discusses the social codes, ethnic prejudices, and religious intrigues that exacted a toll of Smibert and other artists of the period. He also describes how Smibert reconciled the conflicts between his search for spiritual well-being brought about by his Scottish Presbyterian heritage and his struggle for artistic achievement, social acceptance, and financial security. The catalogue illustrates more than one hundred and thirty works by the artist, as well as listing erroneous attributions and fakes.

A Barra Foundation Book

Yale University Press, 9780300042580, 294pp.

Publication Date: October 25, 1995

About the Author

Richard H. Saunders is director of the Middlebury College Museum of Art.