Gibbes Museum of Art

Charleston, SC



Henry Benbridge (1743 - 1812): Charleston Portrait Painter


Surround yourself with faces from the Colonial and early days of the American South with "Henry Benbridge (1743 - 1812): Charleston Portrait Painter," an exhibition showing at the Gibbes Museum of Art from September 29 - December 31, 2000. This exhibition celebrates the work of early American artist Henry Benbridge, acclaimed in his dry as a painter of great genius. Today, he is recognized as a pivotal figure in the history of American art. (left: Thomas Wigfall, watercolor on ivory, © Gibbes Museu of Art)

Benbridge's well-trained hand and elegant, neo-classical style are represented on 32 oil on canvas paintings and 26 watercolor on ivory miniature portraits. The first of its kind since the National Portrait Gallery's 1971 exhibition, this event focuses specifically on the artist's career in the South Carolina Lowcountry. The exhibition brings together paintings from the collections of the Gibbes Museum of Art, Winston-Salem's Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the H.F. duPont Winterthur Museum, as well as pieces from a variety of collectors.

Born into a privileged Philadelphia family, Henry Benbridge was one of the first native-born artists to study abroad and exhibit at elite venues such as the Royal Academy in London. These rich experiences enabled him to meet and create portraits of dignitaries such as Benjamin Franklin and fellow artist Benjamin West. These contacts provided his entrée to the most distinguished circles in the colonies, as well as opportunities for commissions in cities throughout America. (left: Mrs. Charles Cotesworth Pickney (Sarah Middleton Benbridge), c. 1773)

Henry Benbridge's career weathered the storms of the American Revolution. His work remained popular even when the British exiled him to St. Augustine in 1780 as punishment for his staunch patriotism. Following the end of the Revolutionary War hostilities, his career resumed full force during the early years of the fledgling nation.

This landmark exhibition is presented by the Gibbes Museum of Art as part of its Signature Series - an exploration of the connections of major American artists' to Charleston and the Southeast. It surveys Benbridge's career, including his training, the individuals he painted, and the costumes and detailed landscapes that set off each of his portraits. It also includes an examination of his miniatures and those attributed to his wife, Esther (Hetty) Benbridge. It is organized by Angela D. Mack, curator of collections at the Gibbes Museum of Art, with the assistance of Dianne Avlon, guest curator for research.

"Henry Benbridge (1743 - 1812): Charleston Portrait Painter" is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue including four scholarly essays and an annotated exhibition checklist published by the Gibbes. It is funded in part by Wachovia, the Post and Courier Foundation, the South Carolina Humanities Council, and the South Carolina Arts Commission which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Read more about the Gibbes Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 2/28/11

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