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 William Williams  (1727 - 1791)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania / United Kingdom      Known for: naive full-length portrait, allegory

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Ad Code: 3
William Williams
Mysterious Landscape
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Bristol, England, William Williams was self-taught as a painter who, by age 20, was painting portraits, including conversation pieces which at that time were an innovation. He also became a teacher of the young Benjamin West, who later credited Williams as his primary inspiration.

Later in his career, Williams did some allegorical works including "Woman With a Book" that was acquired by Deerfield Academy. Although he was in the Colonies for 30 years, only about twelve paintings are certified as being painted by him. These works were not identified until the mid 1930s, and they are distinctive for their tight detailing with figures posed against theatrical, stage-set like backdrops.

He, the son of a sailor, was an apprenticed sailor who arrived in Philadelphia in 1747 and became known there for his portraits, many of them full length. It is said that he helped construct the first theater in the city and did scene painting for Hallam theatre company. A man named Samuel Shoemaker suggested to West that he show his paintings to Williams, and Williams gave the young artist some lessons and some books including "Lives of the Painters", an unpublished book he had written. Williams also encouraged the parents of West to reinforce their son's talent.

In 1760, he went to Jamaica and returned to Philadelphia in 1763 and stayed in the Colonies until 1775. The next year he went back to his home town of Bristol, England where it is thought he spent his last years there at the Merchants and Sailors' Almshouse. He also wrote a manuscript for an adventure novel titled
"The Journal of Llewellyn Penrose, a Seaman".

Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"
Matthew Baigell, "Dictionary of American Art"
Matthew David Zellman, "300 Years of American Art"
Note from Jerome Williams (4x great Grandson of William Williams). I would also like to see the biography include the information that (a) he was the Author of the first American novel, "Penrose" and (b) that he was the Father of William Joseph Williams 1759-1823.

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