John Greenwood


portrait artist, engraver, art dealer, and auctioneer, was born in Boston, but spent most of his life and career in Europe. From a prosperous family of shipwrights andtraders, Greenwood was forced to seek alternative employment at fifteen when his father died prematurely, and worked as an apprentice in a shop pro ducing heraldicdecoration, japanning, house and ship painting, and engraving. He initially experimented with executing portraits of his friends, with his first known likenesses datingfrom 1747. As a portrait painter in the Boston area, Greenwood came to maturity after artist John Smibert’s (1688–1751) residency in the city and before JohnSingleton Copley’s (1738–1815) rise to prominence. Robert Feke (c. 1707–c. 1751) and Joseph Badger (1708–1765) were his contemporary competitors in thelocal portraiture market. From about 1747 to 1752, Greenwood secured commissions from prominent merchants, clergymen, sea captains, and educators in Bostonand Salem, Massachusetts, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and the surrounding area.Among his most ambitious and monumental compositions, the group portrait of the Greenwood-Lee family records the appearance of six members of Greenwood’sfamily, including a self-portrait of the artist standing proudly at the right, holding paint-brushes and a palette in his hand. As was common with artists of his generation,Greenwood frequently relied upon engravings as sources for his sitters’ poses and props. Subjects have large, long eyes and straight mouths. Drapery folds on clothingare boldly contoured to achieve the effect of light cast on expensive fabrics.In 1752, at the age of twenty-five, Greenwood left Boston for Suriname, South America, where allegedly he spent the next five years painting portraits. A scenetitled
Sea Captains Carousing in Suriname
dates from this period. In 1758 the artist moved to the Netherlands, where he furthered the skills he had acquired in printmaking, in part from Peter Pelham, by studying Dutch engraving techniques. By 1762 Greenwood was in London, where he was elected a fellow in theIncorporated Society of Artists of Great Britain. Over the years, he became a highly successful art dealer and auctioneer, trafficking in old master paintings. In 1770 hewrote Copley that he had introduced more than 1,500 paintings into London’s art market. Two years before his own death in 1792, Greenwood was the dealer responsible for selling the pictures and prints that were left in William Hogarth’s studio after the artist died.
See also
Joseph Badger; Robert Feke; Painting, American Folk; John Smibert
Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
American Paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Boston, 1999.