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 William Russell Birch  (1755 - 1834)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania / United Kingdom/England      Known for: portrait, miniature and landscape painting

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Ad Code: 3
William Russell Birch
from Auction House Records.
Miniature Portrait of Stephen Decatur Jr
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Warwickshire, England, William Birch became a leading artist in baked-enamel miniatures, a master copyist, jewelry maker and an engraver of notes. He remains best known for his enamel copies of portraits of George Washington, copied from paintings of Gilbert Stuart. Sir Joshua Reynolds was a patron and strong supporter of Birch and encouraged the young man to copy many of his portraits.

Birch attended Latin School as a youngster but showed little interest in formal education, so his family sent him to Thomas Jeffreys, a London jeweler, for study. He showed immediate talent in making enamel miniatures, which were first exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1775, when he was only age 20. Ten years later that Society gave him an award for outstanding work.

The reason for his emigration in 1794 to Philadelphia is a mystery because he was so established in England. His son and future successful landscape painter, Thomas Birch, came with him.

William Birch arrived in Philadelphia with a letter of recommendation from Benjamin West, highly respected expatriate American painter in London. Birch earned a strong reputation in America and had many portrait commissions, miniatures and life size. George Washington offered to sit for him, but Birch preferred to copy Stuart's portraits of Washington and did sixty-five copies. He became an accomplished engraver and documented the architecture and city activities of Philadelphia from designs of his son, Thomas. These scenes were published in 1800 in a book called "City of Philadelphia". He also published several views of New York City and another set of views called "Country Seats of America", which were rural scenes of Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

In 1834, Birch died at age 79. His unpublished autobiography, "Recollections", has remained in possession of his family.

Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"
David Michael Zellman, "300 Years of American Art"

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