Thomas Birch

American, 1779 - 1851
(1779-1851) Thomas Birch was born in London and emigrated in 1794 to America with his father, miniature painter and enamelist William Russell Birch, who was his primary teacher. They settled in Philadelphia and established the firm of William Birch & Son, designing, engraving, and publishing topographic views of the city. Around 1806, Thomas Birch established a studio as a portrait painter, but he soon branched out into marine and landscape painting. He was noted for a series of paintings depicting the naval battles of the War of 1812, which were done largely from descriptions provided by battle participants. Birch also painted in Bordentown, New Jersey at Point Breeze, the Delaware River estate of the exiled king of Naples and Spain, Joseph Bonaparte. Birch was elected to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he was made Keeper; he was also made an Honorary Member of the National Academy of Design. Despite the respect of his peers, Birch deplored his lack of patronage, and died a poor man in 1851.

Biography courtesy of Roger King Gallery of Fine Art, www.antiquesandfineart.com/rking
Thomas Birch, son of the well known artist William Birch (1755-1834), was one of early America's foremost marine artists and the founder of the Philadelphia tradition of marine painting. He was born in England and came to the United States with his family when he was fifteen. He learned the technical skills of engraving from his father, and in 1799-1800 they published their widely known series of Philadelphia views.

Birch studied his father's art collection, which included marine works by Dutch artists such as the Van Ruisdaels and Jan Van Goyen (1596-1656) and by the French artist Claude Joseph Vernet (1714-1789). It was, however, after a trip to the Delaware capes in 1805 that he became a serious marine artist.

In the History of American Marine Paintings ([Boston: The Peabody Museum of Salem, Massachusetts, 1968], p. 103), John Wilmerding suggests that while Birch was aware of the English school, his style more truly reflects the old Dutch and French marine traditions. Although his works are predominantly topographical views of the Philadelphia area, his oeuvre includes scenes of the mid Atlantic and New England coastal regions as well.

Biography courtesy of Schwarz Gallery, www.antiquesandfineart.com/schwarzphila
Born in Warwickshire England, Thomas Birch and his father immigrated to the United States in 1794, settling in Philadelphia. His father was noted enamellist and miniaturist, William Russell Birch, and young Thomas would assist his father in this intricate work, no doubt contributing to his technical abilities. The two worked together from 1799 to 1800 as William Birch & Son, designing, engraving, and publishing topographical views of Philadelphia. Around 1806 he began painting portraits and marine subjects, and soon moved to landscapes and seascapes.

At one of his exhibitions in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in 1825, Thomas Cole and other notable artists expressed great admiration for Birch's paintings and became quite interested in his artistic style. Birch used a technique similar to those used by English painters- such as the use of glazes and impasto made for a dramatic effect in his skies and water. Birch's concern for accuracy involved an initial detailed sketch, brush strokes of color, and then final details would sometimes be inscribed lines done with the pointed end of the brush. He would add highlights of pure color for the final touches.

Birch lived and worked in Philadelphia, but also painted in New Jersey, and Pointe Breeze, the Delaware River estate of Joseph Bonaparte, the exiled king of Naples and Spain. In addition, Birch painted New York Harbor, Cape Henalopen, as well as the Massachusetts and Maine coastlines. Birch's work can be found in many prestigious private and museum collections throughout the United States including: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; The Peabody Museum, Salem, MA; New York Historical Society; Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit; Atwater Kent Museum, Philadelphia; and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, Hyde Park, NY.

References:
Brewington, Dorothy E.R., Dictionary of Marine Artists, Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc., 1982.
Wilmerding, John, American Marine Painting, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publisher, New York, 1968.

Biography courtesy of Roughton Galleries, www.antiquesandfineart.com/roughton
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