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Portrait of President John Adams

Attributed to Edward Savage (1761-1817)
Circa 1800
Oil on canvas, gilt frame
35” x 30”
Printed paper label on verso “Tilden Thurber Co./Art Gallery /Providence

Edward Savage was a self-taught painter and engraver who established a gallery and natural history museum in Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Born in 1761 in Princeton, Massachusetts, he painted commissioned copies of portraits by John Singleton Copley in the mid-1780’s before making portraits of George and Martha Washington in New York in 1789-1790. He went to London in 1791, returned to Massachusetts in 1794, painted portraits, and married Sarah Seaver of Boston.

Savage went to Philadelphia in 1795, where from July he exhibited his panorama of London. The following February he opened the Columbian Gallery, “a large collection of ancient and modern Paintings and Prints.” (Gazette of the United States, 20 February 1796). From then until 1801 he worked in Philadelphia as a painter, engraver, print publisher and gallery operator. During this period, Philadelphia was the nation’s capital and President John Adams resided there (1789-1797) and it is likely that this portrait of Adams was completed during this time.

Although unsigned, the painting can be attributed to Savage based on engraved prints of the portrait published by Savage in 1800. The first state is inscribed “Published by E. Savage Oc. 10, 1800” and the second state the inscription was changed to “Painted by E. Savage in 1800”. (See Andrew Oliver, Portraits of John and Abigail Adams; Harvard University Press, 1967, catalog # 53, pp. 113-114).