James Frothingham

(1786 - 6 January 1864)

James Frothingham was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1786, and followed his father's trade, -- that of a builder of chaise-bodies, -- in painting which he experimented with color, then in drawing, and finally attempted chalk likenesses with a success which encouraged him to try oil painting, which he did in a very crude and ingenious fashion, having to work out his ideas without any familarity with estabhshed processes. His first accidental encounter with a portrait-painter put him on the right track. A son of General Whiting, who had studied with Stuart, instructed him how to prepare, modify, and apply colors, so that he commenced at the age of twenty a professional career, carried a specimen of his work to Stuart, who advised him to stick to coach-building, but subsequently praised his work, and at last declared, "there is no man in Boston, but myself, can paint so good a head." In Salem and New York, Frothingham was employed; he made admirable copies of Stuart's Washington, and some of his portraits in color and character are excellent;. but so precarious were his gains that he often repeated his great instructor's advice, and in an economical point of view thought he had better have stuck to his first vocation; he continued, however, says Dunlap, "pointing heads with great truth, freedom, and excellence, but not with that undeviating employment which popular painters of far inferior talent often find."

Book of the American Artist Life, Henry T. Tuckerman, 1867

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Born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1781; [date contrary to additional biographical sources] began life as a painter in his father's chaise manufactory. With meagre instruction in colors, he finally began a career as a portrait-painter, and obtained recognition as a truthful and painstaking artist. His works had sale chiefly in New York and Salem. His copy of Stuart's "Washington" was much admired, and his original portraits were praised for fidelity of coloring.

[Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography, 1900.] div

James Frothingham was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts. He began as a chaise painter in his father's chaise manufactory. In the Boston area, he was a student of Gilbert Stuart. In 1888, The Atlantic Monthly described him as "a portraitist of talent", adding that Stuart is quoted as having said of one of Frothingham's head portraits, "No man in Boston but myself can paint so good a head," and that Frothingham was greatly helped by Stuart's criticisms and encouragement, although initially his Nestor had advised him to adopt another, less precarious means of earning a livelihood.

The Atlantic noted that there is a detailed portrait of Samuel Dexter by Frothingham in the Harvard Memorial Hall, in which Dexter, wearing a white wig and a red cloak atop a black coat, holds a book in his hand, and appears lost in meditation, saying the flesh coloring in the painting is rather dry and parchment-like, but overall, the color is harmonious. Dunlap noted that heads depicted by James Frothingham were painted with great truth, freedom, and excellence.

He painted a number of likenesses in Salem, including the wealthy merchant Elias Hasket Derby. Frothingham would have been a regional competitor to the younger Chester Harding (1792-1866), but in 1826 moved to Brooklyn in New York City.

In 1828 he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full Academician in 1831.

[Wikipedia; The Atlantic Monthly August, 1888] div

James Frothingham was also a pupil, and in some degree an imitator, of Gilbert Stuart, who possessed unusual ability in portraiture, but it was confined to the painting of the head. Whether from the lack of early advantages -- which was so remarkable that he had not even seen a palette when, self-taught, he was able to execute a very tolerable likeness -- or because of natural limitation of power, Frothingham's talent seemed to stop with the neck of the sitter. The face would perhaps be reproduced with a force, a beauty of color, and a truth of character that oftentimes suggested the art of Stuart; while the hands or shoulders were almost ludicrously out of drawing and proportion.

[Art in America, A Critical and Historial Sketch. Author: Samuel Greene Wheeler (S.G.W.) Benjamin, 1880]

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