A powerful and prominent figure within the New York art world during the second half of the nineteenth century, Daniel Huntington produced over 1000 works, spanning the genres of history and literary painting, landscape, and portraiture. He was particularly active in the National Academy of Design and the Century Association, both of which he led as president for a number of years.
Although he appears to have been exposed to the art of painting through a distant family relationship with John Trumbull (both came from powerful Connecticut families), Huntington did not seriously consider a career as an artist until he was almost twenty. Born in New York City in 1816, he was attending school at Hamilton College, in Clinton, New York (after transferring from Yale in the wake of his dismissal over a disciplinary mishap), when he met Charles Loring Elliott, who encouraged his taking up of the brush. By 1835, he had moved to New York City to study with Samuel F.B. Morse and Henry Inman. He also enrolled in the antique school of the National Academy that year. By 1836 he had opened his own studio and seen his first works (two landscapes, a portrait, and a genre scene) accepted at an Academy Annual.
In 1839 Huntington made his first of several lengthy trips abroad, traveling to England, France, and Italy. In Rome he was exposed to the art of the German Nazarenes and their enthusiasm for renaissance-inspired religious painting. His Mercy's Dream (1841, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts), a scene from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, was painted shortly after his return to New York. It brought him immediate and widespread fame and became widely known through copies and engravings. Several years later, he began to take on students, and by 1850 he was well enough established to have an unusual one-man exhibition of some 130 paintings, complete with a printed catalogue. Shortly thereafter, he seems to have turned from subject painting to the more lucrative trade in portraiture. For the next fifty years most of his work fell into the category of conservative, dignified images of the leading men and women of the American social and pecuniary elite. In this he was quite successful, and he died in New York in 1906 possessed of considerable wealth. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
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: 334.