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Italian Landscape,
Washington Allston (1779-1843)

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Oil on canvas
22 1/2 x 30 inches
Status: Available

     Washington Allston’s Visionary Landscape

A New Authentication based upon Content Analysis


The emergence into the public sphere of a landscape painting that can be authenticated as a work by the famed South Carolina artist and writer Washington Allston (1779‒1843) is an occasion for celebration among art historians, connoisseurs of American art, and the public and private owners of this man’s works.  The unsigned, undated, untitled oil-on-canvas painting, called for convenience of discussion Visionary Landscape,  depicts an idealized Mediterranean landscape replete with images that link it not only to numerous other works by Allston but also to the European landscape painting traditions of Claude Lorrain, Nicholas Poussin, and Salvator Rosa—painters whom Allston admired and emulated.  Indeed, this Visionary Landscape places Allston at the cultural and aesthetic crossroad where American landscape painting declared its independence from many of those European traditions and embarked on a trail blazed by the Hudson River School and those post-Civil War painters deemed Luminists and Tonalists.   Allston combined within his Visionary Landscape Old Masters techniques that he had rediscovered, scenes of nature and of classics-based culture that he witnessed in Great Britain and Europe, and a Romantic sensibility (and even philosophy) that was emerging on the Continent and at home in his native United States. 

Despite the confirmation that principles of connoisseurship and conservation science bring to authenticate Allston’s creation of Visionary Landscape, the dictates of scholarship require that the painting be investigated from an art-historical perspective that includes not only research into its provenance, exhibition history, and contemporaneous documentary resources but also a systematic examination of the visual contents—the images of people, structures, and activities that the artist included in the work.  Research into the painting’s provenance, exhibition history, past ownership, and even contemporaneous art criticism have revealed little more than a list of recent private owners and a tantalizing label affixed to one of the painting’s stretcher.  That label reads “W. Boote & Sons LTD.  B02673,” the name of a shipping company from the area of Liverpool, England. 

Visionary Landscape seems to have burst Athena-like, without an elaborate genealogy, and in its fully-matured, puzzling integrity.  As of the present day its past has resisted a traditional art historical research program.  This circumstance places greater importance upon the second path of inquiry—systematic examination of the painting’s visual components and a comparative study of them within a context of Allston’s well-known artworks.  To accomplish this content analysis has been a two-part task: firstly, to identify within Visionary Landscape some of its compositional elements—chiefly, structures and staffage—in order to create a “glossary” of images that then can be searched for within Allston’s other landscapes and even in some of his large history paintings.  The working principle of this approach is that the extent to which Allston used images from this glossary throughout his works strengthens certainty that Visionary Landscape is an authentic, heretofore unrecognized Allston landscape—indeed, one of his most fully-realized works, one that is rich in the artist’s philosophy of art and a convincing display of his technical mastery.  Visionary Landscape is an authentic Allston landscape and one of his finest. 

Why is this two-stage approach necessary?  The shortest answer to that question is that Visionary Landscape is unsigned and undated—a characteristic that it shares with most of Allston’s landscapes and a characteristic that Allston’s works shared with the landscapes of his contemporaries.  The absence of signatures and dates is of course a barrier to easy authentication, barrier

 often faced when art historians examine a newly-discovered or previously-misattributed work.    Another reply to the two-stage question is that uncertainty exists with regard to the painting’s exhibition history.  During his lifetime Allston had three solo exhibitions in the United States of his works: at the Boston Athenaeum in 1827 and 1831 and at Chester Harding’s Boston gallery in 1839.  After his death the Athenaeum exhibited Allston’s paintings in 1850 and 1851, and in 1881 the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, presented a major exhibition, with more than 100 works.  During the twentieth century the Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan, sponsored the most comprehensive exhibition of Allston’s works in history in 1947.  Edgar Preston Pennington’s Washington Allston:  A Study of the Romantic Artist in America (1948) was a study of the artist’s life and works and contained a “Catalogue of the Existing and Recorded Paintings of Washington Allston,” prepared by Richardson and Henry W. L. Dana.  The Richardson Catalogue is as close to an Allston catalog raisonne as exists to the present day.  William H. Gerdts and Theodore E. Stebbins Jr. curated a Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, exhibition in 1979 that featured seventy paintings, a few watercolors, and, more significantly, twenty four drawings from Harvard University’s Fogg Museum, and the Washington Allston Trust that opened new avenues for Allston scholarship.  They then published “A Man of Genius” The Art of Washington Allston (1779‒1843) in 1979, and their exhibition list complements the Richardson Catalogue. 

All of these exhibitions generated commentaries by art critics, journalists, and public intellectuals that collectively established the artist’s reputation.  However, those commentaries, especially the nineteenth-century ones, provided titles for some of Allston’s landscapes that were ambiguous, incomplete, or erroneous.  Richardson’s Catalogue, indexes to the exhibition catalogs of the Boston Athenaeum, National Academy of Art, and other institutions have collated information but have recapitulated some of these earlier inaccuracies.  The Smithsonian Institution Research Information System makes available online information on artworks that institutions report to it and also indexes to some degree published exhibition catalogs from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  The SIRIS database records 166 entries for Allston’s works in its Inventory of American Paintings but some of these entries are duplicates based upon gallery and auction house reports and scanty reports on privately-owned works.  Of the 166 entries thirty one (31) are described as landscapes.  A search through these published, unpublished, and online sources fails to identify an Allston landscape that reliably meets a description of Visionary Landscape.

Has this painting emerged today from nearly two centuries of  anonymity, having seldom or never entered the public sphere in an exhibition or been described accurately in contemporaneous literature?  Or, has it been so poorly described in exhibitions and critical commentaries on Allston’s works during the nineteenth century that it cannot be confidently identified through standard art historical research?  In either case, scholars are faced with “the fact of the painting.”  

                                                Part One

The life and works of Washington Allston have been a perennial subject of appreciation and study starting with the artist’s friends and colleagues; then by a small cadre of professional art critics active during the artist’s lifetime; and finally by modern-day historians of American art and culture.   Allston wrote copiously about art and culture in letters, published essays, poetry, and fiction.  He was an active philosopher of art and knowledge even as he worked in the public sphere as an artist and intellectual.  More than any other nineteenth-century American artist, Allston sought to integrate fine arts, literature, and philosophy into a coherent vision of the human condition. 

Ultimately, Allston’s quest to combine Biblically-themed paintings and avant-garde aesthetic theories and practices defeated him and forced him into decades of seeming artistic inactivity.  During those latter years he struggled to finish Belshazzar’s Feast, a monumental scene from the Old Testament Book of Daniel that he believed would be his greatest legacy.  His unsuccessful struggle from 1817 until his death in 1843 became a common topic of discussion during his lifetime, and after his death dominated popular and scholarly interest in him.  The large, unfinished work is in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts along with several other important Allston landscapes and history paintings. 

The emergence of Visionary Landscape, a painting rich in the artist’s images and aesthetic values invites a new round of study.  This occurrence should help to refocus attention upon Allston’s landscapes and offer some new suggestions regarding the place he holds in American art history.  This essay aspires to offer some new insights into Allston and his Visionary Landscape, but first it must recapitulate basic facts regarding the artist’s life and his legacy as a painter and writer.  It must also survey a body of modern art historical writing that seeks to comprehend Allston’s complex body of work.  Finally, it must come to grips with “the fact of the painting.” 

            Born November 5, 1779, in Georgetown, South Carolina, Washington Allston was from birth a member of a Carolina gentry class that accumulated wealth from its exploitation of enslaved African American labor to grow and process rice for sale to world markets.  This gentry class was called by one historian a “vast cousinage” that reinforced aristocratic notions of culture and society through marriage, legal and political values, and lineage.  By the end of the eighteenth and early decades of the nineteenth century South Carolina rice planters participated in a culture of wealth and sophistication that partook greatly of European values.  The metropolis of Charleston, South Carolina, had strong ties with Philadelphia, Boston, Newport, Rhode Island, which were also centers of commerce and intellectual life.  Education, broad interests in arts, music, architecture, and polite society were part of Allston’s youthful formation, and he soon discovered that the creation of art would be his profession.  Although he left South Carolina as a youth and never lived there during his maturity, the wealth of his extended family provided the resources that allowed him to undertake his career as a professional artist. 

Sons of the South Carolina gentry—Allston among them—secured fine educations at Harvard, Yale, and at European universities and engaged in Grand Tour activities that exposed them to classical Greek and Roman culture as well as the emerging national aspirations of Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy.  Allston’s father died when the boy was an infant and his mother remarried into the Flagg family of Newport, Rhode Island.  In 1787, at the age of eight years, Allston was sent to a private academy in Newport, and then in 1796 entered Harvard College, from which he graduated in 1800.  Intent on pursuing a career as an artist Allston traveled to Great Britain in 1801 and studied there with the expatriate American painter Benjamin West.  He was admitted to the Royal Academy of Art later in 1801.  In 1803 Allston traveled to Paris and then on to Italy to further his professional studies and to immerse himself in the artworks and artistic traditions in those nations.  While living in Europe he became an enthusiastic believer in the ideals of the Romantic Movement that had emerged in Great Britain, Germany, and Italy.   The literary ferment of Romanticism was embodied in the works of writers such as the poets William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Intellectual inquiry coupled with literature were the hallmarks of the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, and the French writer Anne Louise, Madame de Stael.  Allston secured his chief Romantic education through his friendship with the poet and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 

In Italy he painted one of his most famous works, Diana and Her Nymphs in the Chase (1805) a work that placed the Roman goddess of the hunt, in a Romantic landscape that the artist created from memory and from sketches he had made, probably in plein aire, as he passed through the Mount Pilat region of Switzerland.  He realized the significance of this drawing to his aesthetic development, and scholars today reinforce the Diana painting’s importance in Allston’s career.  Indeed, an anonymous German art critic writing in 1806, soon after Allston completed the work, commented on the artist’s combination of Mont Pilat, a real geographical landmark, with a philosophical and aesthetic vision that was both innovative and traditional.  When that anonymous 1806 comment was republished in 1860 in the American art journal The Crayon, seven years after Allston’s death, it was both a fitting observation on the beginning of the artist’s career and an apt observation on his landscape legacy.  His combination in his Diana painting of a classical theme, probably from Ovid’s tales, or from any number of Old Master paintings with real geographical features copied from nature but placed within an artificial, idealized setting, became hallmarks of the artist’s approach to landscape painting and to the way he created backgrounds for some of his history paintings.

Mount Pilat, which towers over Lake Lucerne, became a standard image that Allston used often in other landscapes and in another noteworthy genre painting, The Flight of Florimell (1819), which he painted fourteen years after Diana and Her Nymphs in the Chase.  That Swiss mountain is one of the terms in the glossary of images examined to authenticate Allston’s creation of Visionary Landscape.    

While in Europe Allston became a close friend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and painted a famous portrait of the poet in 1814, during his second sojourn in England.  In 1808 Allston returned to the United States and remained for three years in Boston.  In 1809 he wed Ann Channing, the sister of William Ellery Channing, American Unitarian clergyman and precursor of the Transcendentalist Movement in American culture.  Channing and Allston had become friends while they were fellow students at Harvard.   

Returning to Great Britain in 1812, Allston lived and worked there until 1818, when he returned to the United States.  While in England Allston created Italian-themed landscapes, portraits, and history paintings.  However, even his history paintings were not the sort commonly associated with the term—that is, large-scale depictions of actual climactic episodes in world history.  They were large in size but found their themes in Greek and Roman mythology, scenes in British and European literature, and most importantly, dramatic episodes in the Old and New Testaments. In these respects, they were history paintings like those of Titian, Raphael, and Tintoretto, not like those of Jacques-Louis David or Horace Vernet.  Dona Mencia in the Robber’s Cave (1815), taken from a scene in the French novel Gil Blas (1735) and paintings of characters from William Shakespeare’s plays are examples of Allston’s idealized history and portrait painting.  Back in England Allston discovered the subjects that dominated his life and legacy when he began to create works that are best be described as Biblical history paintings.  In them he sought to combine the monumental size and allegorical themes that he found in works of his mentor, Benjamin West, with the color schemes and classical Greek and Roman elements of Old Master paintings, all of which he placed in the service of a Christian and Romantic aesthetic.  Allston’s synthesis of what art historian Bryan Wolf has called the painter’s “classicistic” imagery with highly-pictorial (but imaginary) backgrounds led him to create triumphal works of art.  However, this “classicistic” vision eventually trapped him within an idiosyncratic artistic vision. 

Dead Man Restored to Life by Touching the Bones of the Prophet Elisha (1811-13), was the first Allston painting purchased for the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and the first glimpse that American viewers had of their native painter’s maturing genius.  Other Bible-themed history paintings were The Angel Releasing Saint Peter from Prison (1814) and Elijah in the Desert (1818).  But, the most famous, largest, and most problematic of these works Allston’s Belshazzar’s Feast, begun in 1817 and never completed.  That work proved to be the artist’s life-long companion and nemesis.  It is apparent from the writings of art historians beginning with Allston’s contemporaries, that the artist’s frustration with Belshazzar’s Feast led his contemporaries to undervalue his numerous landscapes, and led modern art historians to devote less scholarship to the artist’s landscape legacy.  For example, Allston’s friend and admirer, William Ware published Lectures on the Works and Genius of Washington Allston in 1852.  In that work he devoted a chapter to Allston’s “lesser works,” among which he grouped all of his landscapes.   The relative neglect of Allston’s landscapes by generations of scholars and connoisseurs is one reason why Visionary Landscape requires the content analysis approach to authentication. 

In 1818, in the aftermath of his wife’s death in 1815, Allston returned to the United States.  He settled in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, and remained there for the rest of his life.  In 1830 he wed Margaret Dana, the sister of the writer Richard Henry Dana.  As he struggled with Belshazzar’s Feast Allston painted smaller genre pieces and a group of Italian landscapes that were composed from the glossary of images he had developed in Italy and England.  These latter landscapes have received some attention from art historians because in them Allston lightened his colors and to some extent liberated himself from more ponderous allegorical and classical elements found in his earlier works.  The luminosity and strong, distant, upward perspective found in Visionary Landscape likely assign that work to the artist’s later years.  Indeed, its overall appearance and high level of technical skill suggest that it dates from the late 1820s or early 1830s, making it of the same era as Landscape, Evening—Classical Landscape (1821) and Italian Landscape (1828), both of which paintings are in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

William Allston died in Cambridgeport on July 9, 1843.  His place in early American art history is assured, but his legacy is a complicated one.  Determined to develop aesthetic theories and then to elaborate them in poetry and a novel, in his posthumously-published Lectures on Art, and most especially in his paintings, Allston made himself a difficult subject for scholars of American art and culture.  An American and a South Carolinian by birth, he sought throughout his life to create art works that could not immediately be recognized as explicitly American or Southern in their subjects, themes, or locales.  His youthful trip to Great Britain and the Continent as well as his philosophical approach to history and aesthetics held his allegiance in ways that his contemporary American painters renounced.  The nationalism and patriotism that is obvious in the works of men like Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull, Charles Willson Peale, and other artist-practitioners, was never part of Allston’s world view.  Dedicated to philosophical principles of Romanticism and steeped within the Old Masters painting tradition, Allston was an outlier in a rising American landscape tradition.  Ironically, toward the later years of his career Allston’s Romantic search for the sublime in Nature marked him as a forerunner of the Hudson River School and of the Luminist works of painters such as George Innes.                                            In an 1850 essay titled “The Athenaeum Gallery and the Allston Exhibition” that reviewed the Boston Athenaeum’s 1849 exhibition, the American artist Daniel Huntington offered a good assessment of Allston’s landscapes when he wrote: 

The landscapes are recollections of the Italian galleries---

as different as possible from those of the young American

school, which excludes all imagination; while these, we will

not say, exclude Nature, but present her as she beamed upon

the fancy of the artist, and arrayed in hues, and lights, and

shadows, which he may have dreamed of, but never saw. 


                                                            Part Three

Visionary Landscape is replete with images that are characteristic elements in better-known and well-documented Allston landscapes.  So many images—the Martello tower, solitary tree, distant structures, watercourses—captivate the viewer that they argue for the uniqueness of this painting.  However, other images can be easily identified and placed in the glossary.  To build a glossary of those images that can be utilized in examining other Allston landscapes is a challenge.  For the purpose of this essay, five glossary terms have been identified.  Once described, the search for them in other Allston landscapes was under way.  Those five are:  A) ruins of classical portico on left side; B) Roman arch bridge that crosses the painting in the middle ground; C) Romantic ruins on the right side; D) Mount Pilate massif with its steep cliffs in middle ground; E) staffage (the images of people in the painting).  Each of the following five paragraphs addresses one feature of the Visionary Landscape that has counterparts in one or more authenticated Allston paintings.  Two of Allston’s drawings, among the many Washington Allston Trust items in the Fogg Museum, Harvard University, are also included in this comparative study.  Some scholars have concluded that one of these drawings, Four Landscape Compositions (1819) bears a sufficient number of images from the Allston glossary that the four small brown-ink sketches on a single sheet of wove paper may in fact be stages in a study for Visionary Landscape.  The upper left-hand drawing, in particular—both in its overall configuration and in the number of glossary images it contains—may well itself be considered a study for the painting.  If that is the case, the drawing’s 1819 date assists in placing Visionary Landscape among those works Allston completed after returning to America. 

A. Classical Ruins

One of the most prominent features in Visionary Landscape is the towering classical structure on the left side.  The tall portico with its Corinthian columns and pediment is a structure in a setting that corresponds to no specific place in the Mediterranean world that Allston visited.  Adjacent to the portico is a square block ruin penetrated by Roman arch windows.  Allston’s signed and dated Italian Landscape (1814), in the Toledo Museum of Art features on its right side a massive classical portico with Doric columns and a broken pediment.  Adjacent to it is a ruin of a square block building that has Roman arch windows.  His Italian Landscape (Classical) from circa 1805 in the collections of Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, depicts a fully-realized classical city in its mid-ground, a scene dominated by a large building on the right middle ground with a portico, six Doric columns, and a wide pediment.  The middle ground is replete with other Renaissance-era and vernacular buildings.  Harvard University’s Fogg Museum and the Washington Allston Trust hold a large collection of Allston’s drawings.  Among them is a small brown ink on wove paper drawing, Four Landscape Compositions (1819), accession number 8.1955.24.  The drawing is in fact four separate studies that demonstrate the way in which Allston arranged and rearranged images he used to create is landscapes.  All four contain either classical or Romantic ruins (or both), a watercourse, and a solitary tree assembled on right or left margins of the painting with the two halves separated by the watercourse. 

B. Roman arch bridge in Middle Ground

One of the most prominent elements in Visionary Landscape is the Roman arch bridge in the middle ground that ties together the two sides of the painting.  Allston used similar Roman arch bridges as linking elements in the Toledo Museum of Art’s Italian Landscape, signed and dated “W. Allston 1814”; in his Morning in Italy (1816) at the Shelburne Museum, Vermont; his Italian Landscape (Classical) at Phillips Academy; his Moonlit Landscape (1819) at the Museum of Fine arts, Boston; and in in his Italian Landscape (ca. 1828‒30) in the Detroit Institute of Arts.  Visionary Landscape features other architectural structures that link the middle background with the far background, in particular a lengthy causeway that also appears to be built with Roman arches, and the far distant seashore appears to be ringed with buildings.  The upper left drawing in Four Landscape Compositions (1819) uses a Roman arch bridge to span the watercourse and to link the right and left halves of the drawing.  Allston used the same device to link the two sides of Visionary Landscape

C. Romantic or Gothic ruins

Romantic or medieval ruins feature strongly in Visionary Landscape.  Allston placed them prominently in the right middle ground to counterbalance the classical ruins on the left side of the painting.  The circular ruins of the Martello tower appear to be unique among Allston’s landscapes.  His authenticated landscapes are replete with other castle ruins.  In the Toledo Museum’s Italian Landscape (1814) the Romantic ruins are on the left side—classical and romantic ruins are reversed in Visionary Landscape in a manner that further link these two paintings.  More Romantic ruins are in the middle background of the Toledo Museum painting.  The Phillips Academy landscape, Italian Landscape (Classical), ca. 1805, does not depict ruins but its mixture of intact classical, vernacular, and Renaissance buildings is an example of the way Allston sought to link the timelessness of history with a radiant scene from the world of Nature.  All four of the drawings in Four Landscape Compositions (1819) contain sketches of Romantic or gothic ruins.  Allston experimented in the drawings with placing these ruins on either side of the studies, and in middle or background.  Placement of the Romantic ruins in the upper left sketch conform to the placement of the ruins in Visionary Landscape (1819).

D. Mount Pilate, Switzerland

The appearance of Mount Pilate in Visionary Landscape is probably the most convincing evidence within the painting that Washington Allston created it.  In 1804 Allston traveled through the Swiss Alps on a journey from Paris to Italy, where he resided until 1808.  On that journey he made a drawing of “Mont Pilat,” a notched peak in the Swiss Alps that overlooks Lake Lucerne.  That drawing, which is in the collections of  Harvard University’s Fogg Museum of Art, served Allston throughout his career as the defining, idealized shape of a mountain when he required mountains to appear in his landscapes and in some of his genre works.  The first appearance of Mount Pilate (more accurately called Pilatus) in a finished painting is in Landscape with a Lake (1804), signed and dated “W. Allston pinxt 1804,” in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  The same mountain towers above a lake and is the central figure in in Diana and her Nymphs in the Chase (1805), a work that is also in the Fogg Museum.  Mount Pilate is a background element in Italian Landscape (Classical), ca. 1805, in the Phillips Academy and in Moonlight (1819) in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  It is also featured in Landscape Evening‒Classical Landscape (1821) and in as late a landscape as Italian Landscape (1828‒30), in the Detroit Institute of Arts.  An anonymous German art critic writing in 1806, the year after Allston created his Diana painting, commented on the artist’s combination of a real geographical landmark with a philosophical and aesthetic vision.  He reported that “the view is taken from Lake Lucerne, Mont Pilate rises from the water, a small island swims upon the waves, mighty, snow-capped mountains close in the distance.” Three of the four sketches that comprise Four Landscape Compositions (1819) feature a prominent peak and a low-lying mountain range mountains in the background.  The contour of this mountain range in the drawings and in the painting is the same, only reversed.  The most prominent peak in the drawings is on the left while the most prominent peak in Visionary Landscape is on the right. 

               Examination of Allston’s landscapes, created at every stage of his professional career, reveals that Mount Pilate was one of Allston’s most important images in the glossary of images—one  that he used whenever he undertook to paint scenes of Italy.  His use of Mount Pilate was not as perennial as Paul Cezanne’s use of Mont Sainte-Victoire throughout his career but Allston’s use of the Swiss peak likely stemmed from his sense—shared with Cezanne—that their mountains’ shape and mass met their aesthetic needs of an ideal geographical form.  In Allston’s case, that need was greater because he never revisited the Swiss Alps after 1804, and, after his 1818 return to the United States, never visited Italy again.  His 1804 sketch was probably talismanic for him—a timeless representation of Nature suited to the timelessness of his landscapes. 

E. Staffage

Staffage is the general term that designates the images of human beings that appear as elements in works of art.  Allston’s landscapes abound with staffage, and he depicted people in the manner he learned from his intellectual and artistic forebears, Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain, and Salvator Rosa.  Those three and Allston depicted both mythological beings and personalities they knew from experience inhabited the classical landscapes they sought to depict.  Bandits, shepherds, farm workers, bacchants, lovers, musicians, and others were depicted in very small scale when compared to the natural and architectural features in their paintings.  Allston hewed closely to those principles, and the “staffage” that appear in Visionary Landscape are typical of those found in his other landscapes.  Visionary Landscape contains two groups:  on the left foreground, in deep shadows, two fishermen are working their nets from a small boat.  To the right of the painting two (possibly more) indistinctly seen people stand beneath some of the romantic ruins.  The images of the two fishermen are sufficiently visible that their expressions can be discerned, and their expressions mark them as examples of the glossary of Allston images that authenticates Allston as the creator of this work.  The two men’s faces are seen in side view and their expressions are exaggerated to display some emotion that must be exhaustion, fear, anger, or alarm.  Such profile depictions are found throughout the staffage of Allston landscapes and genre paintings.  Diana and her Nymphs in the Chase (1805), at the Fogg Museum, depicts Diana and two nymphs in the far right foreground corner.  Seen in right profile, they look and point to their left sides while a solitary fleeing figure (possibly Acteon), seen from the back, moves away from the group.  In Italian Landscape (1814) in the Toledo Museum three people are depicted in the foreground, the standing contadina and a man and woman.  All look to their left toward a water trough with a lion’s head fountain.  Their visages are severe but not exaggerated.  Italian Landscape (ca. 1805) at Phillips Academy features at least eleven people:  an elderly man sitting in repose at left foreground, a young man seen from the back, then a group of two women and a child in the foreground.  One of the women bears a basket on her head and is looking in right profile.  Two groups of three and a man standing singly are elements of the right foreground.  These latter six are increasingly difficult to distinguish from their surroundings.  Moonlit Landscape (1819) features a group of three people (one a child) and a man on horseback with their backs turned as they look at the full moon in the background.  It is important to emphasize that all of the human figures described in these several paintings, and especially in Visionary Landscape, are engaged in familiar activities but their roles within the narrative scope of each landscape is uncertain.  They serve to emphasize the receding perspective in each painting, and their actions all fall within those of conventional characters depicted in Old Master and neo-classical paintings.  In other words, they complement but do not dominate the narratives that Allston created in these paintings.  Italian Landscape (1828‒30) features a version of the contadina in a folk costume, carrying a basket on her hip and a group of three people, one of whom is a man playing a lute. 

Appendix:  Chronological List of Washington Allston Paintings

and Drawing Referenced

I. Visionary Landscape

22 1/2 x 30 inches

No date



David McCabe, Greenwich, CT

Robert Paul Weimann III. CT

Private Collection, CT

Stretcher bears a label that reads “W. Boote & Sons Ltd.  B02673,” a shipping and

draying company in Liverpool, England.  Boote & Sons ceased business in 1984. 


II. Mont Pilat, Switzerland (1804)

8 5/8 x 11 ¼ inches

Pencil on paper

Inscribed: “Mont Pilat”

Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Gerdts, “A Man of Genius,” number 76, illustrated p. 211.


III. Italian Landscape (Classical) Ca. 1805

39 x 51 inches

Signed: “W. Allston pinxt Roma”

IAP 20110166

Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA

Addison Gallery of American Art: A Selective Catalog (1996), p. 311; Gerdts, “A

Man of Genius,” number12, color plate p. 37; Richardson, Washington Allston,

number 38.


IV. Diana and her Nymphs in the Chase (1805)

65 5/8 x 97 5/8 inches

Signed: W. Allston pinx. Roma”

IAP 20780278

Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Gerdts, “A Man of Genius,” number 11, color plate p. 36; Richardson, Washington

Allston, number 37.

 Crayon 7, no. 6 (June 1860): 178 reprints an article from Dwight’s Journal of

Music which in turn quoted an 1806 German art journal article describing Allston’s Diana

painting, in which the German reviewer stated “The view is from Lake Lucerne. 

Mount Pilate rises from the water . . . .”


V.  Italian Landscape (1814)

44 x 72 inches

Signed “W. Allston 1814”

IAP 42520007

Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH

Susan E. Strickler, Toledo Museum of Art (1979), plate 16, page 19; Gerdts, “A

Man of Genius,” number 31, color plate p. 66; Richardson, Washington Allston,

number 85.


VI. Landscape Three: Morning in Italy (ca. 1817)

17 1/4 x 21 inches

“W. Allston” lower left

IAP 54000213

Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT

Paintings and Drawings at Shelburne Museum (1976), no. 41.

Gerdts, “A Man of Genius,” number 14; Richardson, Washington Allston,

number 93.


VII. Four Landscape Compositions (1819)

5 11/16 x 7 3/8 inches

Brown ink on wove paper


Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA


VIII. The Flight of Florimell (1819)

36 x 28 inches



IAP 24150012

Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI

Gerdts, “A Man of Genius,” number 52, color plate p. 116; Richardson,

Washington Allston, number 119.


IX. Moonlit Landscape‒Moonlight (1819)

24 x 35 inches



IAP 20490090

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

Carol Troyen, American Paintings at Museum of Fine Art, Boston (1997), 6;

Joseph S. Czestochowski, American Landscape Tradition (1982), fig. 34;

Gerdts, “A Man of Genius,” number 54, color plate p. 113; Richardson,

Washington Allston, number 117.


X. Landscape, Evening‒Classical Landscape (1821)

25 1/2 x 34 inches

Signed: “W. Allston A.R.A. 1821”

IAP 83620005

Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, MN

Gerdts, “A Man of Genius,” no. 61, color plate p. 124; Richardson, Washington

Allston, no. 126.


XI. Italian Landscape (Ca. 1828– 1830)

30 1/4 x 25 1/4 inches



IAP 24150013

Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit MN

American Paintings in Detroit Institute of Art (1991), I: 23; Gerdts, “A Man of

Genius,” number 62; Richardson, Washington Allston, number 133.



American Art Chronicle 2, no. 11 (September 1881): 211.  The article states that the 1881 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston exhibition featured more than100 items and that a new catalogue has been published. 

Detroit Institute of Art. Washington Allston, 1779‒1843.  A Loan Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings, and Memorabilia.  Detroit: DIA. 1947.

[Dexter, Franklin.]  “Exhibition of Pictures at the Athenaeum Gallery.  Remarks upon the Athenaeum Gallery Paintings for 1831.”  North American Review 33 (October 1831): 505‒15. Commentary on the exhibition catalogue by Franklin Dexter. 

--------.  “Modern Painters.” North American Review 66 (January 1848): 141‒44.

Flagg, Jared B. Life and Letters of Washington Allston: with Reproductions from Allston’s Paintings.  New York: B. Blom. 1969, a reprint of the 1892 edition.   

Gerdts, William H. “Washington Allston and the German Romantic Classicists in Rome.” Art Quarterly 32 (Summer 1969): 166‒96.

--------, and Stebbins, Theodore E. Jr. “A Man of Genius”: The Art of Washington Allston (1779‒1843).  Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 1979.

Grewe, Cordula. The Nazarenes: Romantic Avante-Garde and the Art of the Concept. University Park: Pennsylvania State University. 2015.

[Holmes, Oliver Wendell.]  “Exhibition of Pictures Painted by Washington Allston at Harding’s Gallery, School Street.” North American Review 50 (April 1840): 358‒81.

[Huntington, Daniel.] “The Athenaeum Gallery and the Allston Collection.”  Bulletin of the American Art Union 7 (October 1850): 110‒12.  Boston Athenaeum exhibition of Allston works included 49 works, 18 sketches, 2 copies.  The author of this essay is believed to be Daniel Huntington, who commented on the absence of significant works, including objects that still remained in England. 

Jameson, Anne.   Memoirs and Essays Illustrative of Art, Literature, and Social Morals. London: Richard Bentley, 1849.  Essay IV: “Memoir of Washington Allston, and his Axioms on Art.” Pp. 159‒204.

Johns, Elizabeth. “Washington Allston: Method, Imagination and Reality.” Winterthur Portfolio 12 (1977): 1‒18.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Exhibition of the Works of Washington Allston. MFA, Boston. Boston: 1881.

Peabody, Elizabeth Palmer.  Last Evening with Allston, and Other Papers. Boston: D. Lathrop. 1887.  This reprints Peabody’s previous articles on Allston as well as a detailed narrative of the exhibition of 1839. 

Richardson, Edgar Preston. Washington Allston: A Study of the Romantic Artist in America.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1948.  Richardson’s book accompanied the 1947 Detroit Institute of Arts 1947 exhibition and the “Catalogue of the Existing and Recorded Paintings of Washington Allston,” compiled with Henry W.L. Dana, approximates a catalog raisonne of Allston’s works.  The compilers collated entries for exhibitions of Allston’s works, provenance information, dimensions, and information on public and private holdings. 

“Sketchings.” Crayon 7, no. 6 (June 1860): 178. Important essay on Diana and the Chase treated as a landscape. “The view is taken from Lake Lucerne.  Mount Pilate rises from the water, a small island swims upon the waves, mighty, snow-crowned mountains close in the distance.”

Smithsonian Institution.  Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS). Washington, DC.  The SIRIS database records 166 entries for Allston’s works in its Inventory of American Paintings but some of these entries are duplicates based upon multiple gallery and auction house reports and minimal reports on privately-owned works.  Of the 166 entries thirty one (31) are described as landscapes.   

Stoner, Joyce Hill. “Washington Allston: Poems, Veils, and ‘Titian’s Dirt.’” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 29, no. 1 (1990): 1‒12.

Strazdes, Diane.  “Washington Allston’s Early Works, 1796‒1811.  Ph.D. dissertation. Yale University. 1982. 

Ware, William. Lectures on the Works and Genius of Washington Allston. Boston: Phillips, Samson and Company. 1852.  As appendix are reprinted the catalog of the 1839 Chester Harding Gallery exhibition of Allston’s works. 

White, Robert L. “Washington Allston: Banditti in Arcadia.” American Quarterly 13, no. 3 (Autumn 1961): 387‒401.

Wolf, Bryan J. “Washington Allston and the Aesthetics of Parody.” Georgia Review 34, no. 2 (Summer 1980): 333‒56.

--------.  Romantic Re-Vision: Culture and Consensus in Nineteenth Century American Painting and Literature. Chicago: U of Chicago Press. 1982.

Wright, Nathalia, ed.  The Correspondence of Washington Allston.  Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.  1993. 




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