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Benjamin Trott


Mr. Trott is one of the few artists who have shrunk from rendering me that assistance which even a few dates would give in raising, what I hope and believe will be, a monument to the arts of America. I give my own knowledge, and such as flows incidentally from the communications of artists, who have not hesitated to furnish me with materials and help to put them together.

Trott commenced his career, as a portrait painter in miniature, about the year 1791; which will allow us to guess that he was born not far from 1770. In 1793 he painted a good miniature head, and practised successfully in New York when Gilbert Stuart arrived there from Dublin, in company with Walter Robertson. Walter Robertson was a native of Ireland; and I believe Trott first saw the light in or about Boston. Robertson's style was very singular and altogether artificial; all ages and complexions were of the same hue-and yet there was a charm in his colouring that pleased, in despite of taste. Trott's manner was more in the old way and more natural. Robertson was employed very much in copying Stuart's portraits; and with his colouring, and Stuart's characteristic likenesses, he was at the pinnacle of fame for a time. Stuart did not like that another, with another set of colours, should be mounted above him, on his own shoulders; and for that reason, and the more natural colouring of Trott, preferred the latter, assisted him by advice, and recommended him.Trott's blunt and caustic manner was probably to Stuart's


Notwithstanding Stuart's approbation, Trott longed to be able to imitate the colouring of Walter Robertson; and I remember to have seen in his possession one of the Irishman's miniatures, half obliterated by the Yankee's experiments, who, to dive into the secret, made his way beneath the surface like a mole, and in equal darkness.

He followed or accompanied Stuart when he removed from New-York to Philadelphia; and that city was his head quar ters for a great many years. His copies on ivory, with water colours, from Stuart's oil portraits, were good-one from the Washington, extremely beautiful and true.

Who Trott's early instructors were, or whether he had any instructors, other than such as pictures and occasional contact with painters afforded, I know not. He certainly had attained a great portion of skill before he made his appearance in New-York. A well painted miniature is to me a source of

Trott in search of secrets.


delight, and some of Mr. Trott's are of great beauty. I speak of the miniatures of the painter in his best days-for the days of decay generally attend the artist as well as his work.

In 1805 Mr. Trott visited the western world beyond the mountains, travelling generally on horseback, with the implements of his art in his saddle-bags. This was a lucrative journey. He returned to Philadelphia in 1806, at which time I was there with my friend Charles Brockden Brown; and I became somewhat intimate with Trott, and pleased with the pungency of his remarks and amused by the eccentricity of his manners. At this time his reputation was at its height, and he might have commanded more employment than he did, but he was visited by a most mischievous notion, a disease of the mind, which occasionally affects painters-this was a firm conviction, that some vehicle had been discovered for conveying colours to the ivory, which gave force, clearness, and every good quality; but that it was kept secret by those who used it, and gave great advantages to certain colourists. This megrim having taken possession of his brain, the consequence was, that if the time which spent in drawing and practising with pure water, would have produced the effect he wished, was wasted in filterings and chemical experiments. He pursued a phantom, as alchymists of old sought the philosopher's stone and with the success-to the same encouragement of irritability of temper, already too sensitive, and the waste of property and more precious time. I must however acknowledge, that by his distillations and filterings he produced some of the cleanest pigments that ever I used; and he bestowed upon me specimens of all the necessary colours for miniature.

In 1806 he justly considered that he had nothing to fear from my rivalry-he would not have been so liberal towards Malbone. The fame of this young painter annoyed Trott, for he had none of that feeling which rejoices at a rival's success, nor of that self-confidence which perhaps causes the generous sensation. Malbone proposed an exchange of specimens with him, probably to show the different manner by which two eminently successful artists arrived at their respective excellence. But Trott considered and denounced it, as an insidious mode of comparison with his own: forgetting, that if such an advantage could be taken by one, it was equally in the power of the other. Though not acknowledged, this jealousy shows a consciousness of inferiority, or at least a fear of the humiliating truth.

In 1808, Mr. Trott and Mr. Sully were joint tenants of a house in the metropolis of Pennsylvania, pursuing their respective branches of the art. Mr. Sully, who long knew Trott,


Trott's mysterious marriage.

says, that he was in all things extremely sensitive; and in many things generous and truly right minded.

When Sully returned from Europe, in 1810, he again took a house in conjunction with Trott. But during the violence of the opposition made by the associated artists to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Trott, led by Murray, spoke harshly of Sully, because, being a director of the academy, he did not join the association in their opposition.

In 1812 Mr. Trott exhibited, at the Academy, several miniatures of great merit. "The works of this excellent artist," says a writer in the Portfolio," are justly esteemed for truth and expression. In examining his miniatures, we perceive all the force and effect of the best oil pictures; and it is but fair to remark, that Mr. Trott is purely an American-he has never been either in London or Paris." The same writer compares Trott's miniatures to Stuart's oil paintings: without going so far, I can speak with approbation of two of his portraits, which had extraordinary merit, that of Benjamin Wilcox, Sully's friend, and a friend of the arts; and a lady in a black laced veil. Very dissimilar in manner, but both very fine.

In 1819, when passing through Philadelphia, I found Trott preparing to go south, Philadelphia had become too cold for him. He went to Charleston, South Carolina, and some one has remarked, that at the same time there were in that city three artists of the names of Trott, Rider and Canter. He returned to Philadelphia, and was generally to be found there until he made a mysterious marriage; and not having the effrontery to announce as "Mrs. Trott," a person whose origin he was ashamed of, he, after suffering for some time, took refuge in New-Jersey, whose laws offered him a release in consequence of a limited term of residence, and he resided for some years in obscurity at Newark.

He did not return to Philadelphia, where his business and reputation had suffered, but removed to New-York; and his miniatures having become poor, and appearing poorer in comparison with those of younger artists, he tried oil portraiture with no success. He painted a few oil-portraits in New-York; but although he had enjoyed intimately the opportunity of studying Stuart, and was an enthusiastic admirer of his manner, nothing could be more unlike Stuart's portraits than those painted by Trott.

After remaining in New-York some years, rather in obscurity, generally shunning his acquaintance, he went to Boston, probably his native place, in the year 1833, after an absence of perhaps more than forty years.

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Trott was rather inclined to be caustic in his remarks upon others, (especially artists,) than charitable. He would introduce a bitter remark with a kind of chuckle, and " upon my soul I think," and conclude with a laugh, "I think so, upon my soul I do." If he saw any one in the street approaching, with whom he had a temporary miff, or feeling of offended pride, or who for any other cause, or no cause, he wished to avoid, he would turn the first corner or cross the street, and this was so frequent, that any one walking with him would be surprised or amused by the eccentricity of his proceeding: if he had time and opportunity he would say to his companion, "come this way," if not, he would leave him abruptly.

Of the full medium height, thin, with a prepossessing countenance, Mr. Trott had qualities which ought to have led to better results. An early marriage with one whom he could honour and present to his friends, without blushing and without effrontery as his wife, would probably have secured to him respectability and domestic happiness.


This was one of the unfortunate individuals, who, showing what is called genius in early life, by scratching the lame figures of all God's creatures, or every thing that will receive chalk or ink, are induced to devote themselves to the fine arts, without the means of improvement, or the education necessary to fit them for a liberal profession. They arrive at a certain point of mediocrity, are deserted, and desert themselves.

About the year 1791, Paul commenced portrait-painter, after having copied prints, and even made some enlarged oil pictures from the engravings of West's pictures. I remember Cromwell dissolving the long parliament. "Take away that bauble."

John Wesley Jarvis mentions him thus, in a letter to me: "About 1800, there were four painters in partnership," this was in Philadelphia, "Jeremiah Paul was good," Jarvis must mean compared to the others, "Pratt was pretty good-he was generally useful," he was far superior to Paul. "Clark was a miniature painter-Retter was a sign painter-but they all would occasionally work at any thing, for at that time there were many fire-buckets and flags to be painted. When Stuart painted Washington for Bingham, Paul thought it no disgrace to letter the books.'

When Wertmüller's Danae made a noise in our cities, Paul tried his hand at a naked exhibition figure, which I was induc


Academies for teaching the fine arts.

ed to look at, in Philadelphia, but looked at not long. Neither did it answer Paul's purpose. Our ladies and gentlemen only flock together to see pictures of naked figures when the subject is scriptural and called moral.

In 1806, I found Paul in Baltimore, painting a few wretched portraits, and apparently prostrated by poverty and intemperance. This is the last I have known of him. He was a man of vulgar appearance and awkward manners.


J. R. Lambdin, Esq. a pupil of T. Sully's and native of Pittsburg, in a letter to me, says that Paul "Visited Pittsburg in 1814, painted many good portraits and better signs. the sight of one of the latter I date my first passion for the profession I pursue it was a full length copy of Stuart's Washington, and was elevated over the door of a coffee-house, in a diagonal corner opposite my mother's house." Again, “Paul introduced to the admiration of the citizens the exhibition of phantasmagorias, and, I believe, painted the first scenery, to the first theatre erected in the west. He died in Missouri about the year 1820."


The school for the fine arts-The Columbianum-The New-York Academy of Fine Arts-Pennsylvania Academy.

1791. ACADEMIES (real and nominal) of the fine arts, form an important item in the progress of the arts of design. The first attempt at such an establishment was


Charles Wilson Peale, in the year above-mentioned, attempted to form an association under this title. Ceracchi, the great sculptor, joined in the scheme, but it proved abortive. Mr. Peale made a second attempt, and called the intended institution


In this he was rather more successful. He collected a few plaster casts, and even opened a school for the study of the living figure, but could find no model for the students but himself. The first exhibition of paintings, in Philadelphia, was opened this year, in that celebrated hall where the declaration of independence was determined upon and proclaimed.

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