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Confidential Evaluation of Your David Gilmour Blythe

David Gilmour Blythe

Corn Husking, ca. 1863–64

David Gilmour Blythe (1815 – 1865)

A leading satiric genre painter of his time, David Blythe did work that often commented on the American court system and also depicted poverty-stricken street children. He was born in East Liverpool, Ohio to Irish and Scottish parents. He had little formal art training but at age 16, apprenticed to Joseph Woodwell, a woodcarver from Pittsburgh. He also observed artists’ work in a local gathering place owned by J.J. Gillespie.

From 1837 to 1840, he was a ship’s carpenter and traveled to Boston and the West Indies and then became an itinerant portrait painter from 1841 to 1845. He traveled throughout Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio and during this time began painting scenes of city life. This work, which was humorous and satiric, contrasted greatly with his solemn, primitive portraits.

In 1846, he settled in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, married, wrote poems for the local newspaper, and painted from his studio that he called the “rat’s nest.” Prone to depression and alcoholism, he struggled throughout his life with these afflictions, especially when his wife died after one year of marriage. He then dedicated himself to painting, completing a 300-foot panorama of the Western Pennsylvania mountains. In 1851, he went on tour with that work through Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. He also did an 8-foot high statue of Lafayette for the Fayette County Courthouse in Pennsylvania.

Many of the paintings he did between 1854 and 1860 were of street urchins, a subject that expressed his own problems with struggling for money and feeling oppressed. A strong Union sympathizer, he was much affected by the Civil War, and his greatest output is from this period when he was a sketch artst for the 13th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers. The Battle of Gettysburg” is considered to be one of his masterpieces because of its powerful depiction of battle. The location of that painting is unknown, but a series lauding Abraham Lincoln is in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

He spent his last years in Pittsburgh.

Sources include:
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

Biography from the Archives of AskART