03 July 2010

Happy Independence Day: Celebrating American Portraiture

With the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776 came the necessity to create a visual history for the new country. John Singleton Copley (1738 -1815) was an Irish-American painter whose portraits of prominent members of Colonial America and an embryonic nation were done in the Grand Manner style of Britain. His painting of Bostonian Nicolas Boylston shows the wealthy merchant wearing a silk damask banyan or robe and negligé cap instead of a wig reflecting the taste in Orientalism. Ironically American painter John Singer Sargent (1856 -1925) was born in Florence, Italy to expatriate Americans and did not come to the United States until he was twenty. His work reflects his exposure to continental European art and his subjects were not only from society but also the art world and everyday life. His portrait of Dr. Samuel Jean Pozzi portrays the French surgeon in a blood red dressing gown against a crimson background. Robert Henri (1865 -1929) was a member of New York's Ashcan School, a realistic art movement of the early twentieth century. His life size painting Ruth St. Denis in the Peacock Dance captures the American modern dance pioneer and her interest in exotic mysticism.


  1. Yippee....american art. And how about those american antiques? Happy 4th!

  2. Thank you Author, yes you are so right let's celebrate American Antiques! Happy 4th. Best, Kendra

  3. A marvellous juxtaposition of American portraiture here, Kendra.
    When I was a young naval wife posted to Hong Kong, a 'banyan' was a boat picnic. I love the term used for one of these sensational damask silk robes. And I never knew that was a 'negligé cap' so thank you for that. I would like to describe the careless clothes I wear at my computer in the morning as my 'negligé' but nowadays people might envision me in a froth of semi-transparent double nylon!

  4. Thank you Rose! How lovely to think of a banyan as a boat picnic. The loose banyan or robe de chambre was a counterpoint to the tight fitted waistcoat for the eighteenth century gentleman. The word is a Portuguese, Arabic and Gujarati hybrid. I also wear carless cloths at the computer in the morning and late at night. There were banyans for women. Best, Kendra

  5. Enjoyed your blog posting with my favorite Singer portrait!

  6. Kendra-
    What a beautiful "potpourri" of American portraits.
    Thank you for posting!

    David @ Ashfield Hansen Design

  7. You are most welcome David!

    Anonymous you may be aware of Pozzi's interesting life and death. A pioneering surgeon, he was shot in the stomach by a former patient who became impotent after his leg was amputated. The doctor died from his injuries.


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