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 Archibald Robertson  (1765 - 1835)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: miniature portrait, landscape

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Ad Code: 3
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from Auction House Records.
An Officer of the United States Infantry, wearing blue uniform with red facings, braided button holes and epaulette, his powdered wig worn en queue with a black ribbon
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
From Scotland, Archibald Robertson became one of the early professional painters in New York City where he had a long career as a teacher and as a painter of portraits, ink and color wash drawings of New York City, miniatures and landscapes. He married Eliza Abramse, who also was an artist.

Among his first paintings in New York were miniature portraits, painted from life, of Martha and George Washington. Robertson had a letter of introduction to Washington, and the two became friends.

Known initially in Scotland for his topographical views, Robertson studied in London with Benjamin West and Sir Joshua Reynolds at the Royal Academy. He moved to New York in 1791 at the invitation of several prominent persons including Robert Livingston who was an association of Robert Fulton in steamship experiments. Robertson's brother, Alexander, joined him. As colleagues, they operated the Columbian Academy of Painting, which was opened in 1801 "by the gentry of the city for their own amusement and the occasional instruction of local artists." (Howat 30). Primarily for amateurs and attended by many women, it was likely New York's first art school and was one of the earliest art schools in America. A key citizen founder was Robert Livingston who, along with other aristocrats, wanted drawing instruction for his children. Deciding that a suitable teacher could not be found in America, they contacted a professor at King's College in Old Aberdeen, and he recommended Archibald Robertson, who in turn, invited his brother.

Archibald Robertson taught drawing and painting and also published books on drawing and miniature painting. He taught a watercolor method of progressive shading used to hand-color aquatint engravings. In those days, landscape drawings by Robertson, his brother, and others were sent abroad for aquatint engraving, which, in turn, stirred interest in Europe in American landscape, and beginning 1787, led to American magazines publishing copies of European produced aquatints of American landscapes. (At that time, the process of aquatint was not done in America).

Although Robertson paid lip service to historical and classical painting, then regarded as the highest form of artistic expression, he actively promoted landscape painting. Of that subject he wrote that it was something "every man may have occasion for. . . .Rocks, mountains, fields, woods, rivers, cataracts, cities, towns, castles, houses, fortifications, ruins, or whatsoever may present itself to view . . .may thus be brought home and preserved for future use, both in business and conversation." (Flexner 115). These assertions made Robertson one of the key artists in the development of American landscape painting, and softened the way for the Hudson River School of landscape painting led by Thomas Cole.

Although not considered a part of the Hudson River School of painting, Robertson did pen and ink drawings along the Hudson River including "Clermont, the Seat of Mrs. Livingston." This scene was the family home and birth place of Robert R. Livingston, the New Yorker who was active in the art scene with Robertson.

Robertson also became Secretary and Keeper of the American Academy to the Fine Arts, successor of the Columbian Academy and predecessor of the National Academy of the Fine Arts.

Sources include:
John Howat, "The Hudson River and Its Painters"
James Flexner, "The Light of Distant Skies"
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"

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