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The American School, 1765

The American School, 1765

Matthew Pratt (1734 – 1805)

Born in Philadelphia, Matthew Pratt was a well-known portraitist and sign painter during the Revolution period of Colonial America.

He was born in Philadelphia and apprenticed to his uncle, James Claypoole Sr., an itinerant artist. A major career boost for Pratt occurred when he went to London to the wedding of a relative who was marrying Benjamin West, an American painter who was gaining a distinguished reputation in England. Pratt stayed on with West, becoming his first American pupil and learning techniques of neoclassical painting. He lived in the West household for two years and was so adept as a studio assistant it was difficult to tell his work from West’s.

Pratt’s most famous painting is “The American School”, depicting West and his students evaluating work by Pratt.

Pratt became an independent artist in Bristol, England for fifteen months and then returned to America where he lived in New York and Philadelphia, returned to England for two years and in 1768, returned permanently and worked in New York and Virginia. By 1785, he was settled in Philadelphia, doing well as a portraitist but not as successful as his peers, Charles Willson Peale, Gilbert Stuart and John Trumbull.

He was also a successful painter of colorful signs in Philadelphia, which then was the busy colonial capital. He died there in 1805.

Michael David Zellman, “300 Years of American Art”

Biography from the Archives of AskART