William W. Kennedy


(1818–after 1870)
is numbered among the few members of the so-called Prior-Hamblin School, a small group of artists who were related by marriage, and who worked in a similar stylethat ranged from “flat portraits without shade” to semi-academic portrayals with facial modeling. No direct association with William Matthew Prior (1806–1873),Sturtevant J.Hamblin (active 1837–1856), nor George G.Hartwell (1815–1901), the other artists comprising the Prior-Hamblin School, has yet been established.Advertisements, inscriptions, and city directories, however, place Kennedy in the same locale as Prior was, both in Boston, where Prior and his in-laws centered their activities after 1841, and in Baltimore, where Prior lived during the 1850s, just doors away from William W.Kennedy on East Monument Street.In 1845 Kennedy was working and advertising in New Bedford and Nantucket, Massachusetts. In February of that same year he painted portraits for at least threemembers of New Bedford rope-maker Josiah Bliss’s family. In July he was in Nantucket, where he advertised a “New Style of Portrait” in the
Inquirer and Mirror
.The 1845 portrait,
Captain David Worth,
suggests Kennedy was referring to a flat style of portraiture advocated by Prior that could be accomplished quickly andinexpensively. The wording of the ad is strikingly similar to language used earlier by Prior in his own advertisements, and Kennedy also states that he is “of Boston,”lending further credence to some connection between the artists. From these seafaring coastal towns of Massachusetts, where he portrayed primarily sea captains andother members of the maritime trades, Kennedy traveled to Ledyard, Connecticut, in 1846, and Berwick, Maine, in 1847.Sometime during the winter of 1849–1850, Kennedy moved to Baltimore, where his work acquired a somewhat more academic cast. A little more informationabout the artist is gleaned from the 1850 Maryland census, which lists Kennedy as a 32-year-old portrait painter who is a native of New Hampshire, and who ismarried with three children. Baltimore city directories situate him at various addresses between 1853 and 1871, including 229 Light Street from 1851 to 1854; 227East Monument Street from 1856 to 1859; 82 West Baltimore Street in 1860 and 1864; 75 Chew Street from 1867 to 1868; and 257 West Fayette Street from 1870to 1871.At least fourteen signed examples of Kennedy’s work have provided the basis for the attribution of additional portraits, as well as the identification of certaincharacteristics that distinguish his hand from the other artists of the Prior-Hamblin School. These include, most significantly, Kennedy’s delineation of brows and blunt-tipped noses with a continuous, smooth, U-shaped outline; curved and extended fingers; and a dark line between the upper and lower lips with T-shaped creases at the corners.
D’Ambrosio, Paul S., and Charlotte Emans Moore.
Folk Art’s Many Faces: Portraits in the New York State Historical Association.
Cooperstown, N.Y., 1987.Little, Nina Fletcher. “William Matthew Prior and Some of His Contemporaries.”
Maine Antiques Digest
(April 1976): 19A-21A.Rumford, Beatrix T., ed.
American Folk Portraits: Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center.
Boston, 1981