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 Nahum Ball Onthank  (1823 - 1888)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts      Known for: portrait, historical figure, landscape

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from R. Scott Oberlies, Blue Lake CA: He writes: "I am the great-great grandson of Nathum Ball Onthank. My grandfather, Arther Heath Onthank, ( Nathum Ball Onthank's grandson ) wrote a book titled " The Onthank Family ". This information comes from pages 70 - 72 of this book."

Nathum Ball Onthank was the second child and son of William Newton Onthank and Susan Forbes Ball. He was born at Holliston, Massachusetts on July 19, 1823. He became one of the eminent portrait artists of his day. The family legend is that when he was a young lad his work in painting a sign for a Southboro tavern was admired by an itinerant painter, who gave him some professional advice that led him to engage in that profession. He left the farm when he was 18, and soon afterwards established himself as a portrait artist in New London, Connecticut, where he won quick success and acclaim. Although he was largely self-taught, he took instruction later from the celebrated artist Chester Harding, who was also his friend.

He later established studios in Boston where he became a successful and well-known artist. Among his best known portraits are those of U. S. Vice President Henry Wilson, U.S. Senator Charles Summer, the abolitionist John Brown, the artist Washington Alston, Mayor James Hyde of Newton, Henry Villard, Seth Davis and many leading men of the day, as well as other Onthank family members.

He exhibited his work at the National Academy in 1848 and 1850, and at the Boston Athenaeum, of which he was a member, between 1853 and 1872. The " Great Fire" in Boston in 1872 destroyed his studio, including many finished and unfinished pieces of art. Thereafter, he traveled much, pursuing his profession, especially in the South.

In 1845 Nathum Ball Onthank married Lydia Ann Brigham of Southboro, Massachusetts. They lived for two years in New London, Connecticut, and then moved to Boston and later to the suburb, West Newton. They had 7 children, and Lydia Ann died at Newton in 1863. A year later, Nathum Ball Onthank married one of his pupils, Caroline Heath Clancey. She became an accomplished artist in her own right, and was one of the earliest members of the Daughters of the American Revolution. They had 4 children.

Nathum Ball Onthank died in Boston on November 24, 1888.



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