Edward Savage was a self-taught painter and engraver who became proprietor of a paintings gallery and natural history museum in Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Although his abilities improved, his talent never equaled his ambition. Born in 1761 in Princeton, Massachusetts, he painted commissioned copies of portraits by John Singleton Copley and a naively painted full-length portrait of Abraham Whipple (United States Naval Academy, Annapolis) in the mid-1780's before making portraits of George and Martha Washington in New York in 1789-1790. He went to London in 1791, where he published prints of his portraits of Henry Knox and Washington and had some contact with Benjamin West. He returned to Massachusetts in 1794, painted portraits, and married Sarah Seaver of Boston.
Savage went to Philadelphia in 1795, where from July he exhibited his panorama of London. The following February he opened the Columbian Gallery, "a large collection of ancient and modern Paintings and Prints." (Gazette of the United States, 20 February 1796). From then until 1801 he worked in Philadelphia as a painter, engraver, print publisher and gallery operator. Although his painting and engraving techniques had improved in England, he relied considerably on the assistance of his apprentice John Wesley Jarvis and English engraver David Edwin. Later they and others claimed that their talents added significantly to the quality of Savage's work in these years.
Savage exhibited his London panorama in New York in 1797 and moved there in 1801, where he reopened the Columbian Gallery. He is listed in New York city directories through 1810 as a "historical painter and museum proprietor". Gallery exhibits included his paintings of The Washington Family, Liberty, The Landing of Columbus ("from a picture in the collection of the Grand Duke of Tuscany") and his copy of West's Cupid Stung by a Bee. Engravings of "Liberty, Columbus, Etna, Vesuvius, a large whole length of Washington...and many other Prints published by E. Savage" were for sale. The museum offered natural history exhibits that were "arranged, agreeably to the ideas of Sir Hans Sloane, and with the addition of a number of paintings, and other interesting articles, will form a complete source of amusement for every class, particularly the amateurs of Arts and Sciences." (The Daily Advertiser 10 June 1802). Charles Bird King was a pupil in 1800-1805. In the winter of 1805-1806 he and Charles Willson Peale exchanged natural history specimens. The following summer he made a sketching trip to Niagara Falls.
Savage went briefly to Baltimore in 1810, where he advertised as a portrait painter in March (American, and Commercial Daily Advertiser, 19 March 1810). He moved that year to Boston, where he re-established the Columbian Museum on Tremont Street. He died seven years later, in 1817, on his farm in Princeton, Worcester County, Massachusetts. One of many talented artists of the Federal period, Savage is best remembered as one of the first proprietors of a museum and picture gallery. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
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Dresser, Louisa. "Edward Savage, 1761-1817." Art in America 40 (no. 4, Autumn 1952): 155-212.
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Miller, Lillian B., et al., eds. The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family. 3 vols. New Haven and London, 1983-1991: 2(1988):113-114, 744, 913, 932, 934.
Miles, Ellen G. American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1995: 145-146.
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