John Vanderlyn: The Artist and His Times

One of the almost forgotten histories that abound in the Hudson Valley/Catskills region is that of 18th and 19th century neo-classical artist and Kingston native, John Vanderlyn. Vanderlyn is the subject of my new documentary, now in early stages of production.

John Vanderlyn was born in 1775, as the American Revolution was beginning, and his family was forced to flee to Hurley during the British burning of Kingston two years later. His life story is a long and complicated one, including patronage by Vice President Aaron Burr, studies in Paris and Rome, gold medals from Napoleon and the scandalous exhibition of his famous nude, Ariadne Asleep on the Isle of Naxos, now in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

Vanderlyn painted many Presidents, including portraits of James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson and a full length George Washington (after Stuart) that hangs in the House of Representatives.

His attempts at business were less successful, and he tried his hand at exhibiting and touring with large scale panoramas and history paintings. He raised money and had built a “Rotunda” in New York City to house his massive Versailles panorama. Vanderlyn's panorama was lost from sight for 100 years after Vanderlyn's death in 1852 until discovered in a Kingston barn and restored for exhibition in its own special room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Vanderlyn's work is well represented at the Kingston Senate House Museum as well as a variety of museums around the country. Here are some pictures including Vanderlyn's self-portrait, a detail from his panorama at Versailles in which he appears, a portrait of Andrew Jackson hanging in the Charleston, S.C. City Hall, a view of Vanderlyn's Rotunda, and a miniature self-portrait.   I'll post more updates as the research and acquisition of materials and interviews continue.