Benjamin Trott, thought to have been born in Boston, ranks with Edward Greene Malbone and Charles Fraser as one of America’s best miniaturists. During a long career that spanned from 1791 to 1841, Trott worked along the eastern seaboard from Boston to Charleston. In 1793 he settled in Philadelphia to make watercolor miniatures on ivory of Gilbert Stuart’s portraits. Trott reached the height of his career, from 1806 to 1819, in Philadelphia, where he shared a studio with Thomas Sully for a time. He exhibited several miniatures at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1811 and 1812.
Though his miniatures varied widely in both conception and technique, Trott won high praise for his likenesses. His acclaim as a miniaturist stems from his skillful handling of color—he habitually incorporated the bare ivory into the color scheme—and his ability to render the sitter, typically male, with an economy of effort. For these reasons, Stuart favored Trott’s copies of his portraits.
National Museum of American Art (CD-ROM) (New York and Washington D.C.: MacMillan Digital in cooperation with the National Museum of American Art, 1996)
Benjamin Trott’s career unfolded in New York, Philadelphia, Kentucky, and Ohio before he established himself in the nation’s capital. He was praised for the strong coloring and vivid likeness in his portraits, but his perfectionism and professional jealousy strained his relationships with fellow artists. He was obsessed with the idea that other painters such as Walter Robertson and Edward Greene Malbone knew better how to create pure pigments, and was determined to discover their secrets. Gilbert Stuart, with whom Trott had worked early in his career, was one of the few painters to remain friendly with the miniaturist. Trott’s most successful work was created between 1800 and 1825, but his style later became unfashionable and his career suffered. Trott’s obituary, however, credited his talent, acknowledging that his mind “… was vigorous, his genius undoubted, and his reputation equal to that of any other engaged in similar pursuits.”