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 John Russell Bartlett  (1805 - 1886)

About: John Russell Bartlett
 

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Lived/Active: New York/California/Rhode Island      Known for: western sketch-genre, illustrator

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
An amateur painter whose distinguished reputation was for his work as American historian, Indian ethnologist, and bibliographer, John Russell Bartlett was born in Providence, Rhode Island and was raised in Kingston, Ontario.

He was educated in Canadian schools and then worked in Providence as a bank cashier and in his uncle's dry goods store.  He was also active in the historical society, painting scenes of local interest including Dighton Rock. 

In 1836, he became a resident of New York City, and in 1840 opened a book store with Charles Welford, specializing in science and literature and foreign books which they imported.  He also wrote Progress of Ethnology (1847) and Dictionary of Americanisms (1848).  During these years, Bartlett gave great encouragement to his friend Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904), who is noted for his tropical paintings, especially of hummingbirds.  The bookstore, Bartlett & Welford, was a favorite among leading artists, writers, and explorers including Henry Cheever Pratt.

However, this business failed, and in 1850, with political connections and an interest in Indian languages, Bartlett applied for and was appointed by President Zachary Taylor to be United States Commissioner for the United States Mexico Boundary Survey, 1850-1853.   His job was outfitting the survey party, and he hired his friend Henry Cheever Pratt to be the official artist, but sketches by Bartlett were in the final report.

The survey party traveled through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona along the Gila River, Mexico and California, and Bartlett "kept a detailed account of his ethnological and botanical observations" (Dawdy, Vol 1, 17) 

In January, 1852, he sailed from Acapulco to San Diego and then went to San Francisco where he purchased supplies for the party. During that part of his trip, he did numerous drawings of Northern California including quicksilver mines in New Almaden and geysers near Napa.

However, his participation in the survey was controversial because he frequently wandered away from the official party to find Indians for his language studies but charged his outside expenses to the Survey.  Also in the final report, he replaced some of Pratt's professional drawings with his own, including views of Fort Yuma, Arizona.  Some people believed these amateur drawings detracted from the quality of the report.

Bartlett lived his final years in Providence, where he served for seventeen years as Secretary of State and published a widely respected two-volume narrative of his exploration with the survey party . The books, published in 1854, had many of his sketches from those travels.


Sources include:
Peggy and Harold Samuels, Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West
John and Deborah Powers, Texas Painters, Sculptors, and Graphic Artists
Doris Dawdy, Artists of the American West (Vol I).

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
John Russell  Bartlett was born in Providence, RI on Oct. 23, 1805. Bartlett was an importer of foreign books in NYC until 1850. When the business failed, he was appointed U.S. Commissioner for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary Survey.

The survey was completed in 1853. H. C. Pratt was the official artist of the expedition; however, sketches of California by Bartlett also appeared in the report. An historian and ethnologist, he died in Providence on May 28, 1886.

Works Held: Library of Congress.
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
First 100 Years of Painting in California (J. Van Nostrand); New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America (Groce, George C. and David H. Wallace); Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biographies (NY 1887).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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