|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Although the details of Robert Field’s early career in England are
obscure, it is known that he received his early training at the Royal
Academy schools, London, in 1790. In 1794 he moved to the United
States as part of the influx of British artists and craftsmen enticed
by the prosperity of the new republic. After settling briefly in
Baltimore, Maryland,, he took up residence in the nation’s capital,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There he immediately joined a group
of artists led by Charles Willson Peale, the noted painter and
naturalist, in establishing the Columbianum, or American Academy of the
Fine Arts, an organization whose plan, according to Field, was “the
most enlarged, liberal and grand of any in the world.” |
American-born artists objected to the academy’s authoritarian,
quasi-monarchical structure – George Washington was to play a role
analogous to that of George III as the first patron of the
organization, and “visitors” were to travel from city to city judging
which individuals were to be admitted to membership – Field and seven
other English expatriates founded the rival Columbianum, or National
College of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and Engraving. This
body collapsed within a few months, but the American Academy continued
in operation until it was superseded by the Pennsylvania Academy of the
Fine Arts in 1805.
Field spent 14 years in the United States, working as a miniature
painter in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, and Boston.
During this period he produced miniatures of George and Martha
Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and a wide range of people prominent in
the social, economic, and political life of American society. In
May 1808, he left the United States for Halifax, Nova Scotia., a city
that was enjoying unprecedented prosperity because of its position as a
base for British naval operations.
Shortly after his arrival in Halifax, he set up his studio in Alexander
Morrison’s bookshop, and in a newspaper advertisement he announced his
intention “to exercise his profession, as portrait painter, in oil and
water-colours, and in miniature.” In the years that followed he
continued to produce miniatures, but he also painted more than 50 oil
portraits of government officials, military officers, merchants, and
assorted members of the Halifax “gentility”. Among his subjects
were Bishop Charles Inglis, former lieutenant governor Sir John
Wentworth, Sir George Prevost, Sir John Coape Sherbrooke*, and Sir
Alexander Forrester Inglis Cochrane, vice-admiral in the Royal Navy
(whose portrait was shown at the Royal Academy exhibition in London in
1810). In addition, Robert Field was an important figure in
Halifax social circles. He was an honorary member of the Charitable
Irish Society, and in 1812 and 1813, he served as an officer of St
John’s Masonic Lodge No.211.
In a few years, Field depleted the potential market for oil portraits
in Halifax, and early in 1816 he moved to Jamaica, settling first in
Montego Bay and then in Kingston. He died on 9 Aug. 1819,
apparently of yellow fever, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the
old “West Ground” cemetery, now called the Strangers’ Burial Ground,
near the Kingston parish church.
Generally recognized as one of America’s leading miniaturists, Field
was probably the most professionally trained painter to settle in
Canada at the beginning of the 19th century. Working in the
conventional neo-classic portrait style of Henry Raeburn and Gilbert
Stuart, he showed little stylistic variation in his works. None
the less, the oil portraits painted during the Halifax stage of his
career stand as a striking illustration of patronage of the arts in
Submitted by M.D. Silverbrooke
Written by Sandra Paikowsky, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Pa., Hist. Soc. (Philadelphia), Academy of Fine Arts, minutes and papers, 1794–1830; F
F. J. Dreer coll., Painters and Engravers. PANS, MG 20, 66; MG 100, 141, no.10.
Notes on American artists, 1754–1820, copied from advertisements
appearing in the newspapers of the day; to which is added a list of
portraits and sculpture in the possession of the New-York Historical
William Kelby (New York, 1922; repr. 1970). Acadian Recorder, 2 Jan., 25 Nov. 1815; 31 Aug. 1816; 11 Sept. 1819. British Colonist (Halifax), 3 Oct. 1848. Kingston Chronicle and City Advertiser (Kingston, Jamaica), 18 March, 11 Aug. 1819. Nova Scotia Royal Gazette,
7 June 1808, 14 Sept. 1814. Art Gallery of N.S., [Robert Field,
1769–1819]; an exhibition organized by the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia,
Halifax, October 5 to November 27, 1978 (Halifax, 1978).
Mantle Fielding, Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers; with an addendum containing additional material on the original entries, comp. J. F. Carr (New York, 1965).
J. R. Harper, Early Painters and Engravers in Canada ([Toronto], 1970).
The New-York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564–1860, comp. G. C. Groce and D. H. Wallace (New Haven, Conn., and London, 1957).
J. C. Smith, British Mezzotinto Portraits; being a descriptive
catalogue of these engravings from the introduction of the art to the
early part of the present century . . . (4 pts. in 5v., London,
D. M. Stauffer and Mantle Fielding, American Engravers Upon Copper and Steel . . . (3v., New York and Philadelphia, 1907–17; repr. New York, 1964).
H. B. Wehle and Theodore Bolton, American Miniatures, 1730–1850 . . . and A Biographical Dictionary of the Artists (Garden City, N.Y., 1927; repr. New York, 1970).
Theodore Bolton, Early American Portrait Painters in Miniature (New York, 1921). William Dunlap,
A History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United
States (2v., New York, 1834; repub., ed. Rita Weiss and intro. J. T.
Flexner, 2v. in 3, 1969).
Harry Piers, Robert Field, Portrait Painter in Oils, Miniature and Water-Colours and Engraver (New York, 1927).
C. C. Sellers, Charles Willson Peale (New York, 1969).
Frank Cundall, “More about Robert Field,” Connoisseur (London), 77 (January–April 1927): 187.
C. R. Grundy, “Robert Field, an Anglo-American Artist,” Connoisseur, 76 (September-December 1926): 195–98.
Barry Lord, “Portraits of a Young Hero: Two Versions of Robert Field’s
‘Portrait of Lieutenant Provo William Parry Wallis,’” National Gallery
of Canada, Bull. (Ottawa), 20 (1972): 13–21.
Harry Piers, “Artists in Nova Scotia,” N.S. Hist Soc., Coll., 18 (1914): 112–19.
G. C. Williamson, “Robert Field, American Miniature Painter,” Connoisseur, 79 (September–December 1927): 50–51.
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