Winthrop Chandler was born on 6 April 1747 at Chandler Hill, the family farm located on the town line of Woodstock and Thompson, Connecticut. One source states that the artist "studied the art of portrait painting in Boston." Although there is no other documentary evidence of this artistic training, an eight-year absence from the Woodstock area (1762-1770) corresponds to the usual term for apprenticeships. His receipt of an important commission soon after his return also seems to support this claim.
Chandler married Mary Gleason in 1772, and the couple had five sons and two daughters. Despite a modest family inheritance, Chandler soon began to experience financial difficulties that would continue throughout his life. In contrast to the many itinerant artists of the time, Chandler did not travel in search of commissions, and most of his sitters were family members or neighbors. In addition to portraits, some landscapes have been attributed to him.
In 1785 Chandler moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, where he remained for five years. During this period his son Charles as well as his wife died, and his remaining children were sent to live with relatives. Although he painted houses to supplement his income, Chandler was unable to support himself. He returned to Chandler Hill where he died on 29 July 1790. Chandler was so destitute that he left his remaining property to the selectmen of Thompson to pay his medical and funeral expenses. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Lincoln, William. History of Worcester, Massachusetts, from its Earliest Settlement to September 1836. Worcester: C. Hersey, 1862.
Chandler, George. The Chandler Family. Worcester: Press of C. Hamilton, 1883.
Flexner, James Thomas. "Winthrop Chandler: An Eighteenth-Century Artisan Painter." Magazine of Art 40 (November 1947): 274-278.
Little, Nina Fletcher. "Winthrop Chandler, Limner of Windham County, Connecticut." Art in America 35 (April 1947): 75-168.
Lipman and Armstrong 1980, 26-34.
Chotner, Deborah, with contributions by Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn. American Naive Paintings. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 63.