Gallery Artists > Charles Bird King Biography :

Charles Bird King (1785 - 1862)  Artworks >>

Born: Newport, Rhode Island 1785
Died: Washington, DC 1862

Very important portrait painter specializing in Indians

King was as a boy the pupil of Samuel King in Newport, then of Edward Savage in New York, and finally of Benjamin West in London for seven years along with Thomas Sully. After failing with a Philadelphia studio he opened in 1812, King moved to Washington, DC in 1816 where he was the “principal artist-in-residence less by his painting skill than by a bachelor’s pleasant manner while eating out.” King thus “smiled his way to success as a mediocre portraitist,” although as a still-life painter he “made loveliness out of ruined things.”

In 1821, King was commissioned by Thomas L McKenney, Superintendent of Indian Trade, to paint portraits of eight Western Indians brought to Washington “to visit their Great White Father” to become impressed with his strength. King went on to paint about 90 portraits of Indians visiting Washington, to comprise by 1837 the nucleus of the National Indian Portrait Gallery. All but three of these were lost in the Smithsonian fire in 1865. Today these paintings exist in the many replicas King is said to have painted, as well as copies known to have been made by Henry Inman and others. In addition the portraits were duplicated in “faithful and colorful lithographs” illustrating McKenney and Hall’s three-volume work published 1836-44. And finally, the lithographs themselves were widely copied.

Resource: SAMUELS’ Encyclopedia of ARTISTS of THE AMERICAN WEST,
Peggy and Harold Samuels, 1985, Castle Publishing

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