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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Ralph Earl


Portrait of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge
(an influential member of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, with his son William Tallmadge)
1790
oil on canvas
other detail unknown

Ralph Earl (1751-1801), born in Massachusetts, was an American painter known for his portraits. He also painted six landscapes, including a panorama display of Niagara Falls.

By 1774, he was working in New Haven, Connecticut as a portrait painter. Like so many of the colonial craftsmen, he was self-taught, and for many years was an itinerant painter. In 1778, he left behind his wife and daughter and escaped to England by disguising himself as the servant of British army captain John Money.

In London, he entered the studio of Benjamin West, and painted the king and many notables. He continued painting portraits in the town of Norwich. He later married an English woman, despite the fact that he had never ended his marriage in America. By 1786, he returned to the United States with his new wife. After his return to America, he made portraits of prominent men.

He seems to have been a man of unstable temperament. In 1786, while living in New York City, he was imprisoned for failing to pay his personal debts. Even while in jail, he drew portraits of his visitors, friends, and family of the Society for the Relief of Distressed Debtors. He was released in 1788. He died in Bolton, Connecticut in 1801. Alcoholism is believed to be the main cause of death.