William Dunlap (February 19, 1766 – September 28, 1839) was a explorer of American theater. He was a producer, playwright, and actor, as skillfully as a historian. He managed two of New York City's antique and most prominent theaters, the John Street Theatre (from 1796–98) and the Park Theatre (from 1798–1805). He was along with an artist, despite losing an eye in childhood.
He was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the son of an army overseer wounded at the Battle of Quebec in 1759. In 1783, he painted a portrait of George Washington, while staying at Rockingham in Rocky Hill. The painting is now owned by the United States Senate. He forward-thinking studied art under Benjamin West in London. Another teacher was Abraham Delanoy, with whom he had a handful of lessons in New York. After returning to America in 1787, he worked exclusively in the stage for 18 years, resuming painting out of economic necessity in 1805. By 1817, he was a full-time painter.
In his lifetime he produced greater than sixty plays, most of which were adaptations or translations from French or German works. A few were original: these were based on American themes and had American characters. However, he is best known for his encyclopedic three-volume History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States, which was published in 1834, and which is now an invaluable source of guidance about artists, collecting, and artistic sparkle generally in the colonial and federal periods.
His plays include:
In 1825 Dunlap was one of the founders of the National Academy of Design, and taught at its school. He published his History of the American Theater in two volumes in 1832.