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 Chester (Charles) Harding  (1792 - 1866)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts      Known for: portrait painting-life size to miniature

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Ad Code: 3
Chester Harding
from Auction House Records.
American Indian Chief (Part of 34 lots sale)
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Chester Harding ran a furniture business in upstate New York with his brother Horace in 1815, but by 1817 he had taken up sign painting at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and also made his first attempts at portrait painting.  The following year he joined his brother Horace in Paris, Kentucky, and took up portrait painting as a profession, stating in his autobiography, 1866, that during a six-month period there he painted over 100 portraits.

He went to Philadelphia in 1820 but returned to Kentucky after only a very brief period of study. Harding's talent for portraiture was gaining notice, and over the next year he achieved enormous success.

He was in Cincinnati, Ohio in February, 1820, and then moved to St. Louis where he painted Gov. William Clark.  The portrait is in the Missouri Historical Society.  He also made a portrait of an Osage Indian Chief.

He then traveled to the countryside where, in June 1820, he painted the only known life portrait of Daniel Boone, which is in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.  The portrait was done just before Boone died.

Harding continued to travel after this, painting once again in Kentucky, and also in Cincinnati and Chillicothe, Ohio.  He returned to the Eastern seaboard in 1821 or 1822, where he worked in Washington DC, Boston, and Northampton, MA, and achieved such rapid prosperity that by 1823 he was able to travel abroad to England.

During the next three years he was successful in London, painting for the Royal family and receiving numerous requests for other commissions.  Eventually, hard times forced him to return to America, where he was again in great demand.  He settled in Boston for a few years and founded Harding's Hall, in which he and an association of artists promoted contemporary art through group exhibitions.

He kept his Boston studio but moved to Springfield, Massachusetts in 1830, and still traveled frequently, painting portraits in Washington DC, Richmond, Baltimore, Canada, New Orleans 1841, and Kentucky.

Harding made a second visit to England and Scotland in 1846.

He died in Boston, shortly after his return from St. Louis, where he had painted a portrait of General Sherman. 

Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from National Gallery of Art, Washington DC:
Chester Harding was born in 1792 in Conway, Massachusetts, the fourth of 12 children whose father, an unsuccessful inventor, experienced some difficulty in providing for his numerous offspring.  Harding thus spent several years in the household of an aunt, and at age 12 he was hired out to help with the support of his family.  When he was 14, his parents decided to move to the relatively unsettled area of Monroe County, New York.  There he dabbled in a variety of trades--including drum-making, cabinetry, and tavern-keeping --without much success.  Shortly after his marriage to Caroline Woodruff in 1815, he was forced to leave New York State because of mounting debts.  His young family then joined him in Pittsburgh, where he began painting houses.

Around 1818, he was introduced to portraiture by an itinerant artist named Nelson.  Largely self-taught, Harding achieved some success before moving to Kentucky, where a brother was already engaged in the portrait trade.  There he felt the influence of Matthew Jouett, a slightly older artist working in the manner of Gilbert Stuart. Over the next few years, Harding painted in Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, and Washington, D.C., traveling to Philadelphia for two months of study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts during the winter of 1819-1820.  Business was good, and he received particular notoriety for a likeness of the 90-year-old Daniel Boone, which was engraved by several printmakers.

In 1823, Harding spent six months in Boston, where he received an astounding reception and more commissions than he could carry out.  He later admitted that his success was due largely to his reputation as an untaught "primitive" from the frontier, a mythic status upon which he would capitalize for several years to come.  Despite his good fortune, he moved his family that year to Northampton, Massachusetts, in preparation for his anticipated trip to Europe.

Harding soon left for London, where he met artists Charles Robert Leslie and Sir Thomas Lawrence and temporarily adapted his tight, finished style to the looser brushwork then in fashion in Britain.  He met with extremely good fortune in England, Scotland, and Ireland.  Taken by his plain mannerisms and humble origins, aristocrats with a democratic bent--and even members of the royal family--commissioned their likenesses from him.

Pleased with his popularity, Harding made the decision to settle in Glasgow and sent for his family to join him there.  Soon after they arrived, however, he was forced to abandon his plans and return to Boston in 1826 after a British financial panic destroyed his business.

For the rest of his life, Harding's career was centered in Boston, although he made his home in Springfield, Massachusetts, beginning in 1830.  He became an important and visible force in the Boston art world, largely through his ownership of a studio building that was the site of many important exhibitions.  Much of each year was also spent on the road, executing portraits in New York, Louisiana, Kentucky, and points in between.

In all, he is thought to have painted over 1000 portraits.  After the death of his wife in 1845, he made a second, nine-month visit to Europe.  Thereafter he painted less, though never giving up his brushes entirely.  His interests late in life gravitated toward landscape architecture and fishing.

He died in Boston in 1866.

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