Washington Allston

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Allston, Washington

Allston, Washington (ôlˈstən), 1779–1843, American painter and author, b. Georgetown co., S.C. After graduating from Harvard (1800), where he composed music and wrote poetry (published in 1813 as The Sylphs of the Seasons), Allston went to London and there studied painting with Benjamin West. He then spent four years in Rome studying the old masters and began his ambitious religious and allegorical paintings, which at first he rendered with classical reserve. His greatest years were spent in England (1810–18), where his work revealed a sophisticated and controlled, yet romantic mind. An important work of this period was the portrait of his lifelong friend Coleridge. In England and Europe, Allston was the intimate of intellectuals and in frequent contact with the best of Western art. He returned to the United States, where artistic stimulation was lacking, and, as a result, his own work eventually lost its vitality. His allegorical works and his tragic failure, Belshazzar's Feast, over which he labored for more than 20 years, were totally overshadowed by his lyric fantasies—his landscapes and seascapes, of which Moonlit Landscape (1819; Mus. of Fine Arts, Boston) and Ship in a Squall (before 1837; Fogg Art Mus.) are two of the finest. Although he was his own most perceptive critic, Allston persisted in his nostalgic re-creation of monumental neoclassic figure paintings until his death. Samuel F. B. Morse was one of his numerous pupils.


See biographies by J. B. Flagg (1892, repr. 1969) and E. P. Richardson (1948).

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Allston, Washington

(1779–1843) painter; born in Georgetown County, N.C. He spent many years in England (1801–18), studied with Benjamin West (1801–03), became friends with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Washington Irving, and produced romantic paintings, such as The Rising of a Thunderstorm at Sea (1804). He returned to Boston (1818), settled in Cambridgeport, Mass., and continued to paint poetic and narrative subjects, as in The Flight of Florimell (1819) and The Moonlit Landscape (1819). His most famous pupil was Samuel F. B. Morse.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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