R. B. Crafft


(active 1836–1866)
painted likenesses in an increasingly accomplished style over a thirty-year period in the American Midwest and South. His earliest known painting is a signed and dated portrait of a merchant, done in 1836. By 1839 Crafft was plying his trade in Clinton, Indiana, and by 1844 he was advertising his portrait business in Fort Wayne.Aside from executing likenesses of Anglo-American subjects, Crafft also painted portraits of an Indian chief, Francis La Fontaine, and his family. Much of Crafft’s later career, after the mid-1840s, is less well documented. He is believed to have painted in Kentucky, particularly Louisville, Madison, and Jefferson Counties, between1845 and 1853. Crafft was working in Lexington, Mississippi, in 1854, and toward the end of his career, in 1865, painted at least one portrait in Danville, Kentucky.His last known work, dated 1866, marked the end of an artistic career documented by only twelve signed portraits.Crafft’s style changed considerably over the course of the three decades in which he painted. This evolution, toward a more academic style, indicates that Craffteither acquired some artistic training, formal or informal, or that he was observant of more accomplished works and emulated what he saw. His early portrait of theaforementioned merchant displays a forthright folk portrait style. The sitter’s features, costume, and props are flat and angular, with forms modeled in heavy, dark lines.The skewed perspective of the sitter’s books adds to the strong sense of visual pattern. As he developed as a portraitist, Crafft gradually eliminated the props andaccessories and showed his sitters against solid backgrounds. His modeling of figures changed from flat to round, with more realistic volume. Crafft’s 1865 portraitfrom Danville, Kentucky, is executed in a clearly academic style.
See also
Painting, American Folk
Rumford, Beatrix T., ed.
American Folk Portraits: Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center.
Boston, 1981.Whitley, Edna Talbot.
Kentucky Ante-Bellum Portraiture.
Lexington, Ky., 1956