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 Edwin D. White  (1817 - 1877)

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Lived/Active: New York/Massachusetts      Known for: religion-history, portrait and interior painting

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Ad Code: 3
Edwin D White
from Auction House Records.
Major Anderson Raising the Flag at Fort Sumter
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A genre, historical, religious and portrait painter, Edwin White was especially known for his history paintings that responded to the desire of many collectors to have American subjects.  Among these was Washington Resigning His Commission, (1858) which recorded the Commander-in-Chief leaving the army after his victories that led to the forming of the American government.  The work was commissioned by the Maryland Legislature, and White was the winner of their competition to select the artist.  Other noted historical works by him are Pocahontas Informing Smith of the Conspiracy of the Indians; Major Anderson Raising the Flag at Fort Sumter 1862; Landing of the Huguenots in Florida, 1564; and The Signing of the Mayflower Compact.

White was born in South Hadley, Massachusetts and had studios in Bridgeport, Connecticut, New York City and Saratoga Springs, New York.  He was precocious in that he began to paint by age twelve, and his accomplishments began to receive positive attention shortly after that.  His formal studies included schools and artists in Dusseldorf, Paris, Rome, Antwerp and Florence.  In Paris in 1850, he was in the atelier of François Edouard Picot, an academic Neo-Classical painter.  Shortly after White's arrival in August and enrollment with Picot, he wrote enthusiastically to the secretary of the American Art Union:  "Paris appears to me as one of the most desirable places for an artist in the world.  For whatever branch of the art he may choose to follow or study, he finds here the material, fine models, both male and female, costumes, and . . . furniture and other objects such as tapestry, armour, and old pictures." (Weinberg, 50) 

White was inspired by Picot, who did a series on famous artists such as Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci.  In turn, White did paintings with titles such as Michael Angelo and Vasari at the Atelier of Titian (1850); Raphael and Fra Bartolomeo (1851), Murillo Sketching the Beggar Boy (1865) and Van Dyck in the Studio of Rubens (1869).  He also did religious works including scenes from the life of Martin Luther.

However, White only stayed a year in Paris and then went to the Dusseldorf Academy to study history painting with Emanuel Leutze and genre painting with Carl Wilhelm Hubner.

He was a member of the National Academy of Design where he later was an instructor.  Exhibition venues included the National Academy, Brooklyn Art Association, American Art Union, U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Boston Athenaeum and Pennsylvania Academy.  Many of his works are in the collections of Yale University, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Historical Society and  Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

A critical description of Edwin White's painting is by James Flexner in Volume III of his History of American Painting.  He describes White as a "forgotten artist" and cites an example of bad painting being White's Thoughts of Liberia.  Intended to show a young black boy anxious to escape dreadful living conditions, White painted the supposedly dingy home of the boy with such "jewel-like brilliance" that the "protagonist's dejection is completely out of key with this glowing fairyland." (200)

However, many positive comments have been written about Edwin White whose work satisfied many people of the mid 19th Century who wanted a sense of connection and patriotism with their culture that in turn, they could like to Classical Rome and Greece.

Edwin White died in Saratoga Springs, New York in 1877


Peter Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

Barbara Weinberg, The Lure of Paris

James Thomas Flexner, History of American Painting, That Wilder Image, Vol. III

The Annapolis Complex Collection

Biography from The Johnson Collection:
Extensive formal education, both in the United States and abroad, fully prepared Edwin White, a Massachusetts native, to record some of the most important scenes in the history of the South. Having begun to paint at the age of twelve, he received his first serious instruction in 1837 from Philip Hewins before moving to New York for studies with John Rubens Smith at the National Academy of Design. Several of White’s early history works were exhibited in the city, leading to his election to the National Academy of Design in 1849. In addition, the American Art-Union, a subscription-based organization seeking to enhance the sales and visibility of American artists between 1839 and1851, distributed White's images, further adding to the artist's growing reputation. Among the works he exhibited in those years were The Deathbed of Luther, Milton’s Visit to Galileo in Prison and The Old Age of Milton.

In 1851, White went to Paris, where he studied under François-Édouard Picot, and then to Düsseldorf in 1853, working with Karl Friedrich Lessing, a celebrated German romantic artist. After his time in Düsseldorf, White moved to Florence, Italy. It was there that he painted his first Southern episode, Pocahontas Informing John Smith of the Conspiracy of the Indians. For the balance of that decade, White worked primarily from Paris, including his execution of Washington Resigning His Commission, an assignment from the Maryland State Legislature. His much praised sensitivities as an historical painter served him well when he created Major Anderson Raising the Flag on the Morning of His Taking Possession of Fort Sumter, Dec. 27, 1860. Completed in 1862, the work, which captured a critical moment in the prelude to Civil War, drew on several sources in the popular press. Captain Abner Doubleday’s dramatic accounts of events in Charleston were published in New York newspapers in January 1861. An engraving on the cover of Harper’s Weekly for January 26, 1861 depicted Anderson kneeling in prayer before the flag post.

White returned to Florence in 1869, staying until 1875, when failing health prompted his return to America. Obituaries lauded the artist’s artistic and personal integrity, noting that his “aim was to illustrate historical events. Mr. White was possessed of great amiability of character and he engaged the respect and friendship of the entire profession. He was quiet and refined in his manners and the subjects illustrated in his pictures were always attuned in sentiment with some lofty motive which reflected the purity of his mind and heart.”

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

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