John Vanderlyn

Portrait of the Artist, age 25, by Vanderlyn

QUICK FACTS
BORN:
18 October 1775 in Kingston, New York
  DIED:
23 September 1852 in Kingston
Buried at Wiltwyck Cemetery, Kingston, NY

  • The patronage of Aaron Burr provides Vanderlyn with a number of opportunities throughout his career, and despite Burr’s later humiliations, Vanderlyn remains indebted to him throughout his life.
  • In Philadelphia, Vanderlyn helps Gilbert Stuart fill orders for copies of the Athenaeum portrait of George Washington by blocking in the figure (1796).
  • Becomes the first American painter to study in Paris (1796 - 1801) and subsequently wins a medal at the Salon (1808).
  • Vanderlyn imports the French neo-classical style into American art — in sharp contrast to the British Grand Manner of John Trumbull.
LINKS

John Vanderlyn, American painter, was born in 1776 at Kingston, New York. He was the grandson of a Dutch emigré painter and the son of a glazier-painter and dealer in painting supplies.

He was employed by a print-seller in New York and was first instructed in art by Scottish-born painter Archibald Robertson (1765 - 1835), who was later one of the directors of the American Academy of Fine Arts in New York. He made copies of some of Gilbert Stuart’s portraits, including one of Aaron Burr – and it was Burr who arranged to have Stuart take him on as a pupil in Philadelphia.

In 1796 Vanderlyn went to Paris, then in 1805 to Rome, where he painted his picture of Marius amid the Ruins of Carthage, which received a gold medal when it was shown in Paris. This success caused him to remain there for seven years, during which time he prospered greatly. In 1812 he showed a nude, Ariadne Asleep on the Isle of Naxos, which increased his fame.

Vanderlyn returned to America in 1815, but did not meet with success. He worked very slowly, and neither his portraits nor various panorama which he exhibited brought him any considerable financial return.

In 1842, through friendly influences, he was commissioned by Congress to paint The Landing of Columbus for one of the panels in the rotunda of the Capitol at Washington. Going to Paris, he employed a French artist to assist him, who, it is said, did most of the work.

He died in absolute want at Kingston, New York, in 1852.

Vanderlyn was the first American artist to study in France instead of in England. His paintings adapt the French neo-classical style for American audiences. He painted portraits of Presidents, including George Washington (a copy of Stuart’s Lansdowne portrait for the House of Representatives), James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor; New York statesmen Robert R. Livingston and George Clinton; and South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun.

ADAPTED FROM:
Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 ed.

CONNECTED TO:
| Burr, Aaron | Stuart, Gilbert

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The Revolutionary leaders never intended to create an original and peculiar indigenous culture. Despite all their talk of American exceptionalism and American virtue in contrast with European corruption, they were seeking not to cut themselves off from Europe’s cultural heritage but to embrace it and in fact to fulfill it. It is a mistake to view America’s post-Revolutionary emulation of Europe as a legacy of helpless dependence passed on from colonial days. Americans imitated European styles and forms not because in their naïveté they could nothing else but because they wanted to.... Their revolution was very much an international affair, an attempt to fulfill the cosmopolitan dreams of the Enlightenment.

Gordon S. Wood
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009)