Robert Edge Pine was an English portraitist and history painter who spent the last four years of his life in the United States. He was one of the first artists to paint history paintings of the events of the American Revolution.
Pine was born in London, around 1730, the son of engraver John Pine. His exact birth date has never been discovered, and nothing is known of his training. In 1760 he won first prize from the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts for his Surrender of Calais to Richard III (unlocated). He exhibited regularly at the Society of Artists and the Free Society of Artists from 1763 until 1772, when he moved to Bath. Already sympathetic to the American cause, he painted an allegory in 1778 titled America (engraved, 1781; destroyed by fire, 1803), showing a suffering "America" visited by Liberty, Concord, Plenty and Peace. In Bath he met George William Fairfax, close friend and neighbor of George Washington. Another patron was Samuel Vaughan, a London merchant and friend of Benjamin Franklin, who commissioned Pine to paint portraits of his children.
At the end of the American Revolution Pine decided to go to the United States and asked Samuel Vaughan's son John about "the present state of the country, with respect to the disposition and ability of its inhabitants for giving encouragement to Painting, either at Portraits or in perpetuating to Posterity the many glorious Acts which honours the name of an American." (Letter of April 29, 1784, Dreer collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, quoted in Stewart 1979, 20). On August 23rd Fairfax sent Washington a print of Pine's America and recommended Pine to Washington and his friends. After his arrival in Philadelphia, Pine obtained permission to use a room in the State House (Independence Hall) as an exhibition space and painting room for his projected series of paintings of the events of the Revolution. Despite the patronage of financier Robert Morris, only one painting from the projected series, Congress Voting Independence, was completed (destroyed 1803; copied in oil and engraved by Edward Savage).
Pine's technique for completing his portraits was unusual. "His custom was, on small, thin pieces of canvas, to paint the heads of his sitters, making on paper pencil sketches of their figures, so that on his return home, having pasted his heads upon larger canvases, he and his two daughters could rapidly finish them." (Rembrandt Peale, 1865, quoted by Stewart 1979, 29). In some cases, rather than gluing the small head to the larger canvas, he would fit it into a space in the larger fabric that was especially cut to match its dimensions. Twenty-two American portraits with this piecing technique are known.
After Pine's death in Philadelphia in November 1788, the paintings in his studio were purchased by wax modeler Daniel Bowen, who exhibited them with other objects in his museum in Philadelphia, New York and Boston, beginning in 1792. Nearly all of Pine's paintings were destroyed by fire in 1803, leaving two family groups and about forty individual portraits as examples of his American work. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Stewart, Robert Gordon. Robert Edge Pine; A British Portrait Painter in America, 1784-1788. Exh. cat. National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1979.
Miles, Ellen G. American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1995: 128-129.