Washington Allston

Washington Allston (1779-1843). Self-portrait, 1805. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Washington Allston
Born November 5, 1779(1779-Template:MONTHNUMBER-05)
Near Georgetown, South Carolina
Died July 9, 1843(1843-Template:MONTHNUMBER-09) (aged 63)
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Occupation Painter

Washington Allston (November 5, 1779 - July 9, 1843)[1] was an American poet and painter, known as "The American Titian."[2] He pioneered America's Romantic movement of landscape painting. He was well known during his lifetime for his experiments with dramatic subject matter and his bold use of light and atmospheric color.


Allston was born at Brook Green Domain, in the district of Waccamaw, South Carolina.[1] His mother Rachel (Moore) had married Captain William Allston in 1775; her husband died in 1781, shortly after the Battle of Cowpens.[3] She remarried to Dr. Henry C. Flagg, the son of a wealthy shipping merchant from Newport, Rhode Island.[4]When 7 years of age Allston was sent to Newport, Rhode Island, to prepare for college.[1] Allston attended Harvard College, where he earned a B.A. in 1800.[5]

His talent for drawing manifested itself at an early age, and his chief pleasure was in drawing and sketching. His first essay at painting was a portrait of the eldest son of Dr. Waterhouse, professor of medicine at Harvard College; and this was followed by portraits of 4 members of the Channing family.[1]

He had no regular instructor in drawing or painting until after he went abroad in May, 1801. He studied in England at the Royal academy, and afterwards visited Paris, and then Rome, where he remained for several years, during which time he gained for himself a high reputation as a colorist. He was called the "American Titian," because of the wonderful wealth and harmony of his magical color combinations.[1]

In 1809 he returned to America and married Ann Channing, a sister of William Ellery Channin. After spending 2 years in America, he sailed for England in 1811, and established himself in London, where he entered upon a career of uninterrupted prosperity. Many of his pupils became artists of note; and he painted a number of subjects of great merit, among them: "Uriel in the Sun," "Jacob's Feast," and "The Dead Man Revived by Touching the Bones of Elijah," a picture which took a prize of 200 guineas from the British institute, and was afterwards bought by the Philadelphia academy. His work at this period shows "high imaginative power, and a rare mastery of color, light and shade." He was most influenced and inspired by the Italian masters, though his principal teachers were West and Reynolds.[1]

In 1818 he returned to America, and established a studio in Boston, moving some years later to Cambridgeport, where he spent the remainder of his life. In 1819 he was made associate of the Royal academy. His 2nd wife, whom he married in 1830, was a sister of Richard H. Dana. The choicest of his works during this period are in Boston, some belonging to the Museum of Fine Arts, and some to the private collections of the older families of the city. His "Spanish Girl," "Spalatro's Vision of the Bloody Hand," "The Death of King John," "Jeremiah," "The Witch of Endor," "Miriam and Rosalie," are best known in America. His "Belshazzar's Feast," a most ambitious undertaking, was left unfinished at his death, and became the property of the Boston Athenaeum.[1]

He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, July 9, 1843.[1] Allston is buried in Harvard Square, in "the Old Burying Ground" between the First Parish Church and Christ Church.


Allston's writings display much talent, and his works in both prose and poetry have been highly praised by critics. His "America to Great Britain" was declared by Charles Sumner to be "one of the choicest lyrics in the language," and it was incorporated in Sybilline Leaves. Some of his other works are: The Sylphs of the Seasons, a poem read before the Phi Beta Kappa at Cambridge, and published in 1813; The Paint King, and The Two Painters; Monaldi, a romance of Italian life (1841); Lectures on Art and Poems (1850).[1]


File:Washington Allston 002.jpg

Allston was sometimes called the "American Titian" because his style resembled the great Venetian Renaissance artists in their display of dramatic color contrasts. His work greatly influenced the development of U.S. landscape painting. Also, the themes of many of his paintings were drawn from literature, especially Biblical stories.[6]

His artistic genius was much admired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Ralph Waldo Emerson was strongly influenced by his paintings and poems, but so were both Margaret Fuller and Sophia Peabody, wife of Nathaniel Hawthorne.[6] The influential critic and editor Rufus Wilmot Griswold dedicated his famous anthology The Poets and Poetry of America to Allston in 1842.[7] Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 17 years after Allston's death, wrote that: "One man may sweeten a whole time. I never pass through Cambridge Port without thinking of Allston. His memory is the quince in the drawer and perfumes the atmosphere."[4]

Boston painter William Morris Hunt was an admirer of Allston's work, and in 1866 founded the Allston Club in Boston, and in his arts classes passed on to his students his knowledge of Allston's techniques.[8]

Allston coined the term "objective correlative," which T.S. Eliot described as a situation or a chain of events that acts as a formula and is used in art to evoke emotion.

The west Boston neighborhood of Allston, Massachusetts, is named after him.






  • Exhibition of pictures painted by Washington Allston : at Harding's Gallery. Boston: J.H. Eastbourne, 1839.
  • Outlines and Sketches (engraved by J. & S.W. Cheney). Boston: S.H. Perkins, 1850.
  • Exhibition of the works of Washington Allston, June - October, 1881, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston: A. Mudge, 1881.
  • Washington Allston, 1779-1843: A loan exhibition of paintings, drawings and memorabilia. Detroit Institute of Art, 1947.
  • The Paintings of Washington Allston : [exhibition] March 6 through April 13, 1975. Coral Gables, FL: Lowe Art Museum, 1975.

Collected editionsEdit

  • Lectures on Art, and Poems (edited by Richard Henry Dana). New York: Baker & Scribner, 1850.
    • facsimile edition, with Monaldi (1841). Gainesville, FL: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1967.


On the Group of the Three Angels Before the Tent of Abraham - Washington Allston01:10

On the Group of the Three Angels Before the Tent of Abraham - Washington Allston

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 "Washington Allston," Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans (1904), Volume I.
  2. John William Cousin, "Allston, Washington," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 1910, 10.
  3. Hubbell, Jay B. The South in American Literature: 1607-1900. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1954: 274.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Hubbell, Jay B. The South in American Literature: 1607-1900. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1954: 275.
  5. Washington Allston, English Poetry, 1579-1830. Web, Apr. 17, 2016.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Vetter, H.F. "Poets of Cambridge, USA". Harvard Square Library (2006). Retrieved 2007-06-12. 
  7. *Pattee, Fred Lewis (1966). The First Century of American Literature: 1770–1870. New York: Cooper Square Publishers. pp. 279. 
  8. Wright, Nathalia. The Correspondence of Washington Allston, Published by University Press of Kentucky, 1993, ISBN 0813117089
  9. Search results = au:Washington Allston, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Oct. 30, 2013.

External linksEdit


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