Thursday, February 26, 2009

Washington Allston

Figure 1. Self Portrait of Washington Allston
Figure 2. Uriel Standing in The Sun
Figure 3. Moonlit Landscape

Washington Allston was born in South Carolina on November 5, 1779. He is the first generation of American artists who grew up after the American Revolution. Allston entered Harvard College in 1795. After his graduation, he sold his inherited land and used the money to study painting in Europe.

Although Allston had been drawing since he was a child, he did not receive his first serious training in paiting until he went to London. It was in London that he developed a sound and coloristic technique. He later spent a year studying Napoleon's Louvre, the first modern museum of painting, and another 4 years in Italy. During this period, he was greatly influenced by the coloristic style of the Venetian and Roman painters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He formed a love for mystery and fantasy, which later transformed his painting into moods of romantic imagination. He is considered one of the first true romantic artists.

Allston did not depend on portrait painting for a living. He only painted people who were important to him. His self-portrait (Figure 1) showed his influence by the mood of Titian's portrait, of which he studied in Louvre. His manipulation with colors and lighting revealed a grave and brooding tone in his portraits.

Allston often uses one of the primary hues - red, white, yellow, and blue, to create a tone for the the entire painting. His landscape painting (Figure 3) and myth figure painting (Figure 2) illustrate his use of glaze to induce an atmosphere of mystery and dream, a predominant characteristics in his work.

Allston is also a published writer. In his early years, he wrote humorous staire and did a few humorous drawings. However, it was not his true passion and he later switched to poetry and essays on the theory of art. His painting and writings inspired a generation of artists and writers, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Bjelajac, David. Washington Allston, secret societies, and the alchemy of Anglo-American painting. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997.

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