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Washington Allston (1779-1843)

( Originally Published 1955 )

The first important American Romantic painter of the nineteenth century; born in South Carolina and attended Harvard, where he did some painting as well as writing. After settling his estate in 1801, he studied in England at the Royal Academy under Benjamin West, and later in Paris among the works in the then newly formed Louvre collection. After that he spent four years in Italy, mostly in Rome, where he became intimate with Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey and Thorwaldsen. He went back to Boston in 1809, but after his marriage lett again for England in 1811 with his wife and his student, Samuel F. B. Morse. He came home for good in 1818, settling in Boston and later in Cambridgeport. During this quarter of a century he was a central figure in the intellectual life of New England, influencing a whole generation in thought and taste. Even in college, Allston had been interested in the "Gothik," and in Europe he fell naturally for that time under the influence of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italians, but especially the romanticism of Salvator Rosa, Claude Lorrain and Fuseli. Though he did many religious and historical paintings in the stilted academic mode of that age, his most important works are dramatic landscapes which range from the mysteriously foreboding to nightmares of horror, many of them recalling Hawthorne and Poe. Always a painter of mood, his early works in Rome (1805-08) were imaginative landscapes based on his journey through the Alps and the Roman countryside, characterized by a classical largeness, clarity and grace. The most dramatic paintings belong to the years (1811-18) spent in England. A mood of dreamy grace and reverie, begun then, increased after his return to the U.S.

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