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Prior-Hamblin School

American, active mid 19th century

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Prior-Hamblin School designates paintings that cannot be definitively attributed to any individual artist, but resemble the work of William Matthew Prior, Sturtevant Hamblin, and/or several other artists identified within this stylistic group, all active in the mid-nineteenth century. The Prior-Hamblin question is one of the most complex in folk art scholarship. The difficulty arises from the large number of unsigned portraits in this style, the close relationship between Prior and Hamblin (brothers-in-law and portrait painters), and the stylistic variation within Prior's own artistic production. In addition, folk painters in general frequently used similar conventional devices which caused their portraits to resemble one another, further complicating attribution questions.

Another issue which should be addressed in this context is the possibility of artistic collaboration within the Prior-Hamblin school, especially between William Prior, Sturtevant Hamblin, and other members of the Hamblin family who were house, sign, and ornamental painters. While no documentation for this exists, there are paintings which cannot be attributed to an individual member of the group but appear to exhibit characteristics of several different artists. An excerpt from an 1828 book written by a French traveler in the United States documents the existence of painting workshops used by artists concerned with making portrait-painting a "lucrative profession." Because Prior would fit this description, the possibility of artistic collaboration or a Prior-Hamblin workshop should be considered, especially in view of the fact that William Prior lived for several years with members of the Hamblin family. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

Artist Bibliography

Little, Nina Fletcher. "William M. Prior, Traveling Artist, and his In-Laws, the Painting Hamblens." Antiques 53 (January 1948): 44-48.
Lipman and Winchester 1950, 80-89.
Bishop, Robert C. H. The Borden Limner and His Contemporaries. Ann Arbor, 1976: 72-73.
Rumford 1981, 112-117, 176-182.
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: 308-309.

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