Henry Benbridge

Henry Benbridge (October 1743 – February 1812) was an further on American portrait painter. He was born in Philadelphia, the and no-one else child of James and Mary (Clark) Benbridge. When he was seven years old, his mother, who had been left a widow, was married to Thomas Gordon, a wealthy Scot. The boy's artistic faculty was encouraged. He made decorative designs for his stepfather's drawing-room which were much admired. When he was fourteen years obsolescent he may have watched John Wollaston paint Gordon's portrait. It has been plausibly argued that teen Benbridge had assistance from Wollaston, since his archaic known portrait, that of his half-sister Rebecca Gordon, "seems to hark urge on to Wollaston." When he was 21, Benbridge was sent to Italy, where he studied in imitation of Pompeo Batoni and Anton Raphael Mengs. In 1769, on commission from James Boswell, biographer of Dr. Samuel Johnson, he made a portrait of Pasquale Paoli in Corsica which he took to London. It was exhibited (1769) at the Free Society of Artists, and from it three mezzotints were scraped and published subsequently the artist's state signed "Bembridge." Like further young Americans he was encouraged by Benjamin West. He wrote, on December 7, 1769, to his stepfather: "Upon my beginning I waited upon Mr. West who received me in the same way as a sort of brotherly affection, as did my cousin, Mrs. West." Impelled, apparently, by a pining to rejoin his family, he left England in 1770, bearing from West the behind note of recommendation to Francis Hopkinson: "By Mr. Benbridge you will get these few lines. You will find him an Ingenous artist and an okay Companion. His merit in the art must procure him great incouragement and much esteem. I deare say it will present you good pleasure to have an ingenous artiste resident in the midst of you."

In Philadelphia Benbridge married Hetty Sage and was admitted upon January 18, 1771, to link in the American Philosophical Society, of which Benjamin Franklin was a founder. He painted the large portrait of the Gordon family, with six figures, one of his masterpieces. Suffering, however, from asthma, he sought a more congenial climate and moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where he succeeded Jeremiah Theus (d. May 18, 1774) as the popular portrait painter of South Carolina. There he made many likenesses of southern men and women, several of which have been popularly approved to John Singleton Copley, an artist who never painted in the South and who left America in 1774. Around 1800 Benbridge contracted in Norfolk, Virginia, whence he made frequent visits to his indigenous city. At Norfolk he gave to Thomas Sully his first lessons in oil painting. He had before instructed Thomas Coram of Charleston. Sully describes his master as "a portly man of great address–gentlemanly in his deportment." Benbridge's health is said by Hart to have declined in center age. Dunlap's confirmation that his last years were passed "in profundity and poverty" has been disputed.

As a technician Benbridge drew well and painted solidly, exhibiting many characteristics of the late Italian masters. His contemporary Charles Fraser (quoted by Dunlap) said that "his shadows were dark and opaque and more enjoyable to the historical style." Hart says "Benbridge was impregnated by the brownish sameness of Batoni's palette and his shadows were too opaque, and although progressive he was somewhat emancipated from these errors, all his proceed belongs to the late Italian school." His paintings, nevertheless, were notably great in reverence of their black-and-white values and some of his miniatures are exquisite. His Italianate mode was much appreciated in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states during his lifetime.

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