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William Beard

 (1824 - 1900)
William Holbrook Beard was active/lived in New York, Kansas, Ohio.  William Beard is known for animal, sporting scenes, portrait and landscape painting.

William Beard

Biography from the Archives of askART

Born in Painesville, Ohio, William Beard painted anthropomorphic, satiric genre scenes with animals engaged in human activity, and frequently bears were his symbols for human beings.

Early in his career, he was basically self-taught although he painted with his older brother, James Henry Beard.  In 1845, he set up a studio in New York City, joining his brother, but his portrait skills did not earn him much money or attention. Five years later he moved to Buffalo, hoping to find more success, but he was disappointed.

From 1856 to 1858, having saved enough money to travel, he went to Europe.  In Dusseldorf, Germany, he met and painted with many American artists including Emanuel Leutze, Sanford Gifford, Worthington Whittredge, and Albert Bierstadt.  He also toured Switzerland and then returned to America where he again settled in New York City and took a residence studio at the Tenth Street Studio Building.

In 1866, he traveled West by train, and in Colorado his companion was Bayard Taylor, a writer and lecturer.   Beard wrote to his wife, the daughter of New York portraitist Thomas le Clear, that he thought the landscape was monotonous, was disappointed he didn't see more buffalo, and was unhappy with wild life and hardship living.  As a result, he turned more and more to his imagination, retaining an interest in wildlife but not in studying their habits and environment first hand.  Many of his paintings showed animals, especially bears, as realistic physically but atypical in their behavior.

William Beard was elected an Associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1861, and a full member in 1862.  He served on the Academy Council from 1873 to 1875.  He is generally regarded as a better artist than his brother, James Beard, but both were successful during their life times. 

William died in New York City in 1900.

Compiled by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier

Jonathan P. Harding, Essay, Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design, Volume 1, 1826-1925.  David Dearinger, General Editor
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born Painesville, OH, Apr. 13, 1824; died New York, NY, Feb. 20, 1900. Painter, specialized in animals, landscapes, portraits. Pupil of his older brother, John Henry Beard. William Beard worked as an itinerant portrait painter before joining his brother in New York in 1845 then establishing his own studio in Buffalo, NY in 1850. He traveled in Europe from 1856-58 before settling in New York City in 1860. Beard gained enormous success during the 1860s, when narrative, mythological, and fairytale paintings became treasured escapes from the cruel realities of the Civil War. In 1866 he joined the writer Bayard Taylor on a trip to Colorado, traveling by Overland Stage from Kansas-Denver. Known to have been in Atchison, Lawrence, and Topeka.

Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
Samuels, Peggy. Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1976., Peggy. Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1976.; Fielding, Mantle. Mantle Fielding’s Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, with an Addendum containing Corrections and Additional Material on the Original Entries. Compiled by James F. Carr. New York: James F. Carr Publ., 1965.; American Art Annual. New York: American Federation of Arts, 1898-194701; Clark, Eliot. History of the National Academy of Design, 1825-1953. New York: Columbia University Press, 1954.; Taft, Lorado. History of American Sculpture. New edition with supplemental chapter by Adeline Adams. New York: Macmillan Co, 1930.; AskArt,, accessed Jan. 19, 2006; Family Search. Version 2.5.0. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 2002. accessed July 13, 2006; Gerdts, William H. William Holbrook Beard: Animals in Fantasy: Essay (New York: Alexander Gallery, 1981); New York History (Jan. 1962);

This and over 1,750 other biographies can be found in Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at University of Kansas.

Biography from Patrick Orbe Fine Art- II
William Holbrook Beard was born in Plainsville, Ohio and began his artistic career as an itinerant portrait painter before moving to New York City in 1845.  He opened a studio in Buffalo in 1850, where he painted mostly romantic genre paintings.  In 1856 he studied and traveled through Europe where he befriended Albert Bierstadt, Sanford R. Gifford, and Worthington Whittredge. Upon his return to the United States in 1858, Beard settled again in Buffalo and began to send his paintings to the National Academy of Design in New York City for exhibition.  While in Buffalo, Beard was an integral force in the local art community as a teacher and participant in the early planning of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy.

Moving to New York City in 1860, Beard set up a studio in the prestigious Tenth Street Studio Building where he began to paint his animal paintings and held a space for nearly 40 years. His genre and animal paintings continued to garner attention, and by 1862 was he was elected Academician of the National Academy of Design.  Beard gained enormous success during the 1860s, when narrative, mythological, and fairytale paintings became treasured escapes from the cruel realities of the Civil War.  His paintings such as Bulls and Bears of Wall Street (The New-York Historical Society) and March of Silenus (Albright-Knox Gallery) are foremost examples of his oeuvre.

Beard became known for genre scenes of animals satirizing human behavior, and painted his first known monkey painting only two years after the publication of Charles Darwin's controversial Origin of the Species, 1859. Beard believed that animals possessed souls and could express human emotions and feelings, yet according to Robert M. Peck, "Beard refused to believe in man's descent from more primitive primates." (Peck, 1994, p.699)  No other work in Beard's extensive oeuvre so clearly and humorously illustrates the artist's opinion of Darwin's theory than the Discovery of Adam, 1891.  Here, a group of well-dressed monkeys appear confounded at the discovery that their ancestor, Adam, is in fact a turtle.  Beard further conveys his message by inscribing "200,000 B.C. Adam" on the tortoise's shell.  Beard possibly refers to Darwin's theory of evolution, the survival of the fittest, by depicting two prehistoric pterodactyls fighting in the left background.

In 1885, Beard published a treatise titled Humor in Animals, in which he devoted chapters to individual species of animals and birds, anthropomorphizing various aspects of each, while offering a significant key to his pictorial meanings.  He exhibited extensively at the National Academy of Design until the year before his death.  Beard also exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Brooklyn Art Association as well as the Centennial Exhibition, 1876, and the Paris International Exposition.  He also showed his work at Snedicor Art Gallery, Samuel P. Avery, and William and Everett, all located in New York City.

Today, his work is found in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New-York Historical Society, Brooklyn Museum, Wadsworth Atheneum, Amon-Carter Museum, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and the Rhode Island School of Design.

Submitted October 2005 by James Halperin, Co-Chairman Heritage Galleries and Auctioneers, Dallas, Texes

Biography from Museum of Nebraska Art
William H. Beard was born in Painesville, Ohio, in 1824. He studied with his older brother as a portrait painter, but was always interested in subjects found in nature. He also painted animals and landscapes before gaining a national reputation as a painter of satirical subjects of animals acting like humans. He began his career as a portrait painter in New York City, then joined Hudson River artists Albert Bierstadt, Sanford Gifford, and Worthington Whittredge for two years in Europe. When he returned to America in 1858 he opened a studio in Buffalo, New York, where he met his future wife, Caroline LeClaire (1), the daughter of prominent portrait and genre artist, Thomas LeClaire (2).

In 1866, Beard traveled by stage coach through Kansas to Denver, Colorado, with the noted travel writer Bayard Taylor. It was Beard's intent to create sketches and study the mountain landscape for future paintings back in his New York studio. Even though he journeyed 400 miles by horseback in the mountains, he was not impressed with the western landscape and returned by stage coach through Nebraska via the South Platte and Platte River route to Lone Tree (Central City, Nebraska) where he was able to connect with a train returning to Omaha (3).

Although William H. Beard probably made several sketches on this western journey, most historians agree there is no record of his Colorado work. The Smithsonian Inventory of American Paintings (4) lists 127 paintings created by Beard and only a few of them seem to be related to this 1866 journey through Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska: Indians on the plains, prairie chickens, a fox and a wildcat, deer and antelope paintings, and a grizzly in a western landscape. The Museum of Nebraska Art also has two significant Beard works associated with this 1866 journey, a 8½ x 12½" steel engraving titled On the Prairie and a 24 x 18" oil painting, Deer on the Prairie. MONA also has an excellent oil, a 20 x 24" self portrait.

Beard spent most of the last 40 years of his career working in his studio in the renowned The Studio Building, located on 10th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in New York City, a structure built in 1857 for artists. In 1897, a reporter with The New York Times interviewed Beard and listed the artists Beard knew who had studios there in the past and present (5): Albert Bierstadt, J.G. Brown, William Merritt Chase, Frederick Church, Lockwood de Forest, William De Haas, Sanford Gifford, Winslow Homer, Emanuel Leutze, William Page, T. B. Reid, James Suydam, Hendrik-Kirk Kruseman Van Elten, Horatio Walker, Worthington Whittredge, and Thomas W. Wood. Beard was quoted that he had been working in this studio for over 36 years, further saying that Whittredge was there before him and still had a studio there.

Although William H. Beard was an excellent portrait and landscape painter, his major income derived from his paintings of allegorical and fantasy subjects, especially bears. As a member of the National Academy of Design, he exhibited those works there. It is also important to note his association with Albert Bierstadt, Sanford Gifford, and Worthington Whittredge, artists who also visited the Nebraska landscape and were influenced by the prairie.


William H. Beard married Caroline Rebecca LeClaire July 7, 1863. They had two children, a daughter who died in childhood in 1865 and a son Wolcott (Will) born in 1867. Wolcott served in World War I and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Although the 1900 Federal Census listed Wolcott as a civil engineer, he was living in an apartment house in Manhattan, New York, with Albin J. Conant, Herman Fucchsell, Otto Jaspin, Samuel La Farge, Thomas Wood, Jinquil Yamagishi, and George Yewell, all listed as portrait painters.
Thomas LeClaire (1818-1882) studied with Henry Inman (McKenney & Hall artist) in New York City.

Colorado: A Summer Trip by Bayard Taylor, edited by William W. Savage, Jr. and James H. Lazalier. 2010 reprint. University Press of Colorado, 1989. This 185-page book of letters was originally printed in the New York Tribune by Bayard Taylor. Taylor describes Beard's activities in sixteen different pages scattered from the beginning to the end of the book. Some of his accounts describe Beard sketching an eagle's nest; Beard's statement that he wished his friend Sanford Gifford could see the landscape; and their meeting on the South Platte with Henry Arthur Elkins, Henry Chapman Ford, and James F. Gookins, all Chicago artists. The Beard/Taylor party also knew Worthington Whittredge was at Pike's Peak. Taylor commented several times that Beard physically struggled on the journey and did little sketching in Colorado. Taylor's letters frequently attack the false notion that this area was the "Great American Desert" as described by Major Stephen Long in 1819, but Beard found the area monotonous and had little to interest him.

Smithsonian Inventory of American Paintings, SIRIS, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., online. Newspaper Collection: New York Times, August 8, 1897, p. 14.
William Holbrook's works can be found in the following selected collections:

Brooklyn Museum
Currier Museum of Art
Harvard University Art Museums
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Joslyn Art Museum
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Museum of Nebraska Art
National Museum of Wildlife Art
New-York Historical Society
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Utah Museum of Fine Arts

Researched and written by Gary Zaruba, 2011, a project of MONA's Bison Society.

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About  William Beard

Born:  1824 - Painesville, Ohio
Died:   1900 - New York City
Known for:  animal, sporting scenes, portrait and landscape painting