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Washington Allston

Allston, Washington (ôlˈstən) [key], 1779–1843, American painter and author, b. Georgetown co., S.C. After graduating from Harvard (1800), where he composed music and wrote poetry (published in 1813 as The Sylphs of the Seasons ), Allston went to London and there studied painting with Benjamin West. He then spent four years in Rome studying the old masters and began his ambitious religious and allegorical paintings, which at first he rendered with classical reserve. His greatest years were spent in England (1810–18), where his work revealed a sophisticated and controlled, yet romantic mind. An important work of this period was the portrait of his lifelong friend Coleridge. In England and Europe, Allston was the intimate of intellectuals and in frequent contact with the best of Western art. He returned to the United States, where artistic stimulation was lacking, and, as a result, his own work eventually lost its vitality. His allegorical works and his tragic failure, Belshazzar's Feast, over which he labored for more than 20 years, were totally overshadowed by his lyric fantasies—his landscapes and seascapes, of which Moonlit Landscape (1819; Mus. of Fine Arts, Boston) and Ship in a Squall (before 1837; Fogg Art Mus.) are two of the finest. Although he was his own most perceptive critic, Allston persisted in his nostalgic re-creation of monumental neoclassic figure paintings until his death. Samuel F. B. Morse was one of his numerous pupils.

See biographies by J. B. Flagg (1892, repr. 1969) and E. P. Richardson (1948).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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