Benjamin Greenleaf the painter was once thought to be identical to Benjamin Greenleaf (1786-1805) the prominent American educator. In 1981, however, the artist was revealed to be a different individual, born in Hull, Massachusetts, 13 Janaury 1769.
His known works range in date from 1803 to 1818. During this period he worked in Massachusetts (Weymouth, Hingham, Braintree, and Newton, 1803-1812; Weymouth again, 1815; Boston area, 1817), New Hampshire (Hopkinton, Hanover, 1813) and Maine (Bath, Paris, Portland, 1816; Bath, Bridgton, Phippsburg, 1817-1818). He painted the members of many families that were related through intermarriage, and seems to have relied on word-of-mouth, rather than newspaper or other advertising, to obtain commissions. To date there are fifty-six known works by Greenleaf, the majority of them reverse paintings on glass, painted in the profile format.
Greenleaf's works are characterized by attractively subtle colors, well-proportioned features, and physiognomic accuracy. Although the artist has become more widely known through recent articles, he almost certainly would be even better recognized if his paintings, many undoubtedly destroyed, had been executed on a support less fragile than glass.
Greenleaf died in Weymouth on 10 January 1821. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Kern, Arthur B., and Sybil B. Kern. "Who Was Benjamin Greenleaf?" Antiques World 3 (September 1981): 38-47.
Kern, Arthur B., and Sybil B. Kern. "Benjamin Greenleaf: Nineteenth Century Portrait Painter." The Clarion 10 (Spring-Summer 1985): 40-47.
Chotner, Deborah, with contributions by Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn. American Naive Paintings. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 156-157.