Transient Painters, Traveling Canvases: Portraiture and Mobility in the British Atlantic, 1750-1780

Crawford, Katelyn, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
McInnis, Maurie, Department of Art, University of Virginia

In the mid-eighteenth century, colonial American portrait painters’ worlds, careers, and works were shaped by the Atlantic Ocean as transatlantic voyages became shorter, safer, and more accurate. While some of these artists used this new mobility primarily to access London’s art world from other parts of the British Atlantic Empire, this dissertation finds that another group of artists took to sea, creating works that were shaped by and helped to define this region. The increased mobility in the British Empire influenced the work of a group of artists who used oceanic travel as a medium for the interchange of culture and ideas from about 1750 to 1780. Through John Greenwood’s Surinam portraits of sea captains, Philip Wickstead’s Jamaican conversation pieces, and John Singleton Copley’s Boston portraits in watercolor on ivory and pastel, this dissertation examines the relationship between portraiture and imperial mobility.

By considering the previously unexplored transatlantic dimensions of the work of this group of early American artists, this dissertation argues that increased mobility in the British empire shaped portraits by colonial American artists who used oceanic travel and shipping for the movement of themselves, their materials, and their images. New mobility provided these artists with access to new subjects and new audiences accessed through their physical travel, the travel of their patrons, and the shipping of their portraits. In turn, their work visualized Atlantic mobility at a time when this movement became indispensable to the imperial project, participating in the larger contemporary effort to delimit and apprehend colonial spaces and their connections to the metropole.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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