William M. Hart (1823-1894)

William M. Hart (1823-1894)

William M. Hart and his brother, artist James McDougal Hart, were born in Scotland, and came to the United States as young boys, settling with their family in Albany, New York. Primarily self-taught, William Hart apprenticed with a carriage maker and created ornamental panels and window shades, and by age eighteen, he set up a studio in his father’s shed and began painting portraits for five dollars a head.  It was a successful venture and eventually led to landscape painting, on which he focused completely by 1845. Hart’s scenes of the Northeast, ranging from the Maine coast to the vales of upstate New York to the quiet countryside of Virginia, were captured with his innate sense of poetry and idyllic charm, and found praise among both critics and collectors alike. 

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Ailing health sent him back to Scotland in 1849, where he sketched and painted outdoors for three years, occasionally sending paintings to the National Academy of Design. Upon Hart’s return to New York, he became a constant contributor to the Academy, and quickly earned a reputation as one of America’s foremost landscape painters. According to an article in an 1875 edition of New York’s Art Journal, “his works attracted great attention, particularly among artists and connoisseurs. They were at once recognized as works of genius.” Because he had received no formal fine art training, his style was considered “new and fresh, and, as the result of earnest study, at once appealed to popular favour.” [1]

Hart eventually settled in Brooklyn, where he became the first president of the Brooklyn Academy of Design upon its founding in 1865. He became a full National Academician in 1858, a year after moving into the newly built Tenth Street Studio Building, and was a founder and president of the American Watercolor Society.

References: “American Painters- William Hart,” Art Journal, August, 1875, p.246-247; Spassky, American Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Volume II, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985; American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987).

[1] “American Painters – William Hart,” The Art Journal, 1875, p. 246.

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