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Eunice Pinney

American, 1770 - 1849

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Eunice Pinney is the earliest known American primitive watercolorist. She was born into a large, wealthy family in Simsbury, Connecticut. Well-educated, she and her seven siblings enjoyed performing plays for neighbors, and Pinney's flair for drama surfaces in the poses, gestures, and facial expressions of the people in her paintings.

Painting fruit and flower still lifes, landscapes, and scenes from history was a popular pastime among refined ladies in nineteenth-century America. Pinney's watercolors stand out with their strong, balanced compositions and robust colors. Self-educated before art instruction books became popular, Pinney was free to invent her own style. The variety of her subjects is unusual; she painted memorials and literary scenes, portraits and landscapes. English prints inspired some of her works, such as The Cotters Saturday Night, which illustrates a poem by eighteenth-century Scottish poet Robert Burns. Lolotte et Werther illustrates an episode in the life of the hero of Goethe's enormously popular romantic novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774).

Pinney seems to have started painting around 1809, when she was thirty-nine. Some scholars have noted that her maturity might have allowed her to be bold and confident in her work. Most of her paintings were done in Simsbury or Windsor, Connecticut, where she settled in 1797, marrying Butler Pinney after her first husband drowned. Of her fifty-four recorded works, the majority were painted between 1809 and 1826.

[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion program to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art. Produced by the Department of Education Resources, this teaching resource is one of the Gallery's free-loan educational programs.]

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