Charles Ingham was born in Dublin in 1796, where he became a pupil of William Cumming, a portrait painter known for his likenesses of female subjects. Following four years of study with Cumming, Ingham adopted his master's specialty. Thus, when he left Ireland and moved to New York in 1816, he soon became known as that city's premier "ladies' painter." The highly finished style he employed throughout his career--one requiring numerous lengthy sittings--was thought to be particularly appropriate for depictions of women; men, it was said, were too busy to submit to his laborious process of repeated layers of glazing. In general, his portraits (some of which, despite the typing of his work along lines of gender, were of men) were warm in coloring and noticeably painstaking in draftsmanship. He also produced miniatures and an occasional landscape and history painting.
In New York, Ingham was extremely active in artists' organizations. Initially a member of the American Academy of Fine Arts, he became a founder of the National Academy of Design when it arose in opposition to the older body in 1826. Although already a professional artist, he enrolled as a student in the antique school during the first season of the new organization; years later he returned for additional study in its life school (1844-1845). His involvement with and support of the National Academy--often as an officer--was unflagging, except for a period during the 1850s, when his views on expanding the membership conflicted with the majority. Ingham was of the opinion that limits should be maintained on the number of artist-members, so as to make the group more exclusive. When his view was not upheld, he went so far as to bring suit against the Academy, greatly offending his fellow artists. Such headstrong actions were said to be characteristic of the impulsive painter.
Ingham was also described, however, as eminently sociable. He was a founder, for example, of the Sketch Club (serving as its first president) and of the Century Association. His contacts extended beyond New York, for he exhibited sporadically in Philadelphia, Washington, Albany, and Brooklyn as well. Boston was another city which knew his work; he spent the winter of 1842-1843 there. In addition, Ingham developed an amateur's interest in architecture. At least one of his projects--a grandiose stairway for the National Academy--was executed, and he published an architectural essay, "Public Monuments to Great Men," in 1858. During the final years of his life, however, he suffered from ill health, which prompted him to scale back many of these activities. He died in New York City in 1863. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Cummings, Thomas S. Historic Annals of the National Academy of Design. Philadalphia, 1865: 221-223, 301-302, 353.
Tuckerman 1867, 69-70.
Dunlap, William. A History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States. 2 vols. 1834: 2:271-274.
Strickland, Walter G. A Dictionary of Irish Artists. 2 vols. Dublin, 1913: 1:541.
Gardner, Albert Ten Eyck. "Ingham in Manhattan." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 10 (May 1952): 245-253.
Kelly, Franklin, with Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Deborah Chotner, and John Davis. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 342.