Thomas Doughty was born in Philadelphia on 19 July 1791, as recorded in the records of the Old St. George Methodist Episcopal Church, and lived there until 1828. Although little is known about his formal education, he apparently showed a strong talent for drawing from an early age. When he was fifteen or sixteen Doughty was apprenticed to a leather worker, and by 1814 he was listed in the Philadelphia directory as a "currier." However, two years later he was cited as a "painter" and he exhibited a landscape at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Doughty's early career as an artist seems to have met with little success, and from 1818 to 1819 he was working once again as a leather currier. He continued to paint during these years and finally, in 1820, decided to make landscape painting his full-time career.
Doughty was largely self-trained, and he relied heavily on copying European landscapes which he saw in collections such as that of his early patron Robert Gilmor, Jr., of Baltimore. From these he learned the established conventions of Continental landscape painting, which he then applied to American scenes. He made sketching trips to record details for his paintings, which came to be much admired for their comparative realism and truth to nature. Doughty was thus one of the founders of the native American landscape school, and his works from the 1820s recorded the beauties of the scenery of the eastern United States. Yet he was never simply a topographical painter, for he classified some his works as "from nature," and others as "from recollection," or "composition[s]."
In 1828 Doughty moved to Boston, but he had resumed residence in Philadelphia by 1830. From 1830 to 1832 he edited a monthly magazine with his brother John, called The Cabinet of Natural History and American Rural Sports. This included hand-colored lithographs by Doughty of various types of animals. The magazine ceased publication in 1832, and Doughty returned to Boston, remaining there for five profitable years. During this time he exhibited frequently and also taught drawing and painting. His works from this period, such as the NGA's Fanciful Landscape (1963.9.2), proved extremely popular although they were less realistic and more romantic than his earlier efforts. Writing in 1834, William Dunlap, the first historian of American art, considered Doughty "in the first rank as a landscape painter."
Although he spent the majority of his life in his native land, Doughty did journey abroad, going to England for a brief stay in 1838. He visited England, Ireland, and France between 1845 and 1847. The last years of his life were spent in New York, and after 1853 Doughty painted only rarely. Although the artist usually managed to find buyers for his works, he was continually short of money, and when he died on July 22, 1856, he and his family were apparently living in near poverty. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Lewis, E. Anna. "Art and Artists of America--Thomas Doughty, N. A.." Graham's Magazine 45 (November 1854): 483-484.
Doughty, Howard N. "A Biographical Sketch of Thomas Doughty." Unpublished manuscript, Library of the National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C., 1941.
Sears, Clara Endicott. Highlights Among the Hudson River Artists. Boston, 1947: 3-23.
Goodyear, Frank, Jr. "Life and Art of Thomas Doughty." Master's thesis, University of Delaware, 1969.
Goodyear, Frank, Jr. Thomas Doughty 1793-1856: An American Pioneer in Landscape Painting. Exh. cat. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Albany Institute of History and Art. Philadelphia, 1973.
Kelly, Franklin, with Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Deborah Chotner, and John Davis. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 131.