Thomas   Birch

(1779 - 14 January 1851)

Birch was born in London, England. He came to the United States in 1794, and assisted his artist father, William Birch, in preparing a 29-plate collection of engravings: Birch's Views of Philadelphia (1800). Subscribers to the series included President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson. This sold well and went into multiple editions, inspiring similar collected views of New York City, and of suburban estates surrounding Philadelphia and Baltimore. The son's first major painting appears to have been a view of Philadelphia from the Treaty Elm in Kensington, which was also engraved and published in 1804. He painted portraits until about 1807, when he took up marine-painting. Some of his most famous works depict naval battles of the War of 1812.

"Birch was the first American ship portraitist, and his paintings were copied by countless artists and craftsmen in America and Europe." In addition to ships, they provide valuable images of bridges, lighthouses, docksides, and harbor fortifications in the Early Republic, especially those surrounding New York City and Philadelphia. His paintings of suburban mansions and rural snow scenes were often turned into engravings.

Historically, the Birches' most important work may be a circa-1801 engraving documenting the unfinished U.S. Capitol. United States Capitol, Completed Northern Wing (circa 1801), engraving, Library of Congress.

The freshness of his atmosphere and clearly-painted waves were a marked feature. His delineation of the engagement between the U.S. frigate Constitution ("Old Ironsides") and the British frigate Guerriere, and that between the USS United States and the Macedonian (1813) -- each four by two feet six inches -- are fine specimens of this artist, and of rare historical value.



USS United States and the Macedonian


He exhibited regularly at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for forty years, beginning in 1811, and managed the museum, 1812-17. His work is collected at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, among others. In 1833, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Honorary member.



American artist, born in London, settled in Philadelphia in 1793. Famous for his paintings of landscapes and historical scenes, he is also noted for a series of engravings of views of Philadelphia, which he executed with his father. During the War of 1812, Birch painted a series of scenes of naval engagements.



The son of William Birch, the enamel painter, was born in London, and was brought to America ca. 1793, by his father who settled in Philadelphia. Taught by his father, he is said to have had such companions as John Wesley Jarvis, Samuel Seymour and also Thomas Sully. Dunlap writes of him: "Mr. Birch is a good landscape painter and a very fine painter of marines."



The Constitution and the Guerriere


'"The United States declared war against Great Britain, June 18, 1812.... Three weeks later, the Constitution under Captain Hull, sailed from Annapolis. Soon after leaving the Chesapeake she came upon a British squadron of one sixty-four, and four frigates, and then ensued the famous three days' chase, in the course of which, by a marvel of good seamanship and good discipline, the American frigate escaped. After a short respite in Boston, Hull set out again, and on the 19th of August he fought and captured the Guerriere, Captain Dacres, in an engagement lasting about an hour. "Larned's History for Ready Reference.



Painter and engraver. Known for topographical landscapes and cityscapes, he also introduced into the United States the European traditions of marine painting. Born in Warwickshire, England, he arrived with his family in the United States in 1794, to settle permanently in the Philadelphia area. Many views of specific locales document his adopted city and its surroundings. The light-filled Delaware River Front, Philadelphia (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, c. 1799) precisely delineates waterfront buildings, ships moored along the quay, and characteristic early morning activities. Also exactingly portraying a Philadelphia site, the Southeast View of “Sedgeley Park,” the Country Seat of James Cowles Fisher, Esq. (Smithsonian American Art Museum, c. 1819) numbers among the artist's many similarly conceived representations of estates situated in the mid-Atlantic states and New England. Correspondingly, on commission Birch also portrayed individual ships. In addition, he often painted the Philadelphia and New York harbors, capturing the vitality of international seafaring trade. His romantic, action-oriented views of the high seas included imaginary scenes of peril and shipwreck, as well as veristic representations, appealing to patriotic sentiment, of American victories in the War of 1812. The marine paintings demonstrate Birch's familiarity with Anglo-Dutch precedents and with works by eighteenth-century French painter Claude-Joseph Vernet. Starting in the 1830s, Birch painted some of the earliest American scenes of rural life in winter, and he also produced portraits.

Birch learned his craft from his father, painter and engraver William Russell Birch (1755–1834), who also passed on to his son a grounding in eighteenth-century English landscape and marine conventions. Also born in Warwickshire, during his early years in London William became a leading enamel specialist, in demand for portraits and copies of paintings, including important examples by his friend and mentor Joshua Reynolds. Adept in addition at painted and engraved views, during his residency in the United States he became most widely known for his work on the earliest American color plate book, the ambitious City of Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania, North America: As It Appeared in the Year 1800 (issued in parts in 1799 and 1800). Undertaken with his son, this publication featured hand-colored engravings based on their paintings, such as Thomas's previously mentioned riverfront scene. Another volume of similar format, The Country Seats of the United States of North America (1809), heralded a later American vogue for publications devoted to rural scenery. From 1797 until 1828, when he returned permanently to Philadelphia, he lived at a country retreat outside the city, near Bristol. Thomas's sister, Penelope Birch Barnes, was active as a still life painter in Philadelphia, especially between 1812 and 1830. Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists



Thomas Birch, American portrait and marine painter; born in London, England, in 1779; died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, January 3, 1851.

He came to the U. S. in 1794, and assisted his artist father, William Birch, in preparing a 29-plate collection of engravings: Birch's Views of Philadelphia (1799). Subscribers to the series included President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson. This sold well and went into multiple editions, inspiring similar collected views of New York City, and of suburban estates surrounding Philadelphia and Baltimore. The son's first major painting appears to have been a view of Philadelphia from the Treaty Elm in Kensington, which was also engraved and published in 1804. He painted portraits until about 1807, when he took up marine-painting. Some of his most famous works depict naval battles of the War of 1812.

"Birch was the first American ship portraitist, and his paintings were copied by countless artists and craftsmen in America and Europe." In addition to ships, they provide valuable images of bridges, lighthouses, docksides, and harbor fortifications in the Early Republic, especially those surrounding New York City and Philadelphia. His paintings of suburban mansions and rural snow scenes were often turned into engravings.

Historically, the Birches' most important work may be a circa-1801, engraving documenting the unfinished U.S. Capitol. Another, may be the son's painting depicting an 1812 naval battle between USS United States and HMS Macedonian, that hung in the Oval Office of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.



View artist's work: Thomas Birch (1779-1851)

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