Charles Bird King

born Newport, RI 1785-died Washington, DC 1862
Media - king_charles_bird.jpg - 90045
Courtesy Redwood Library and Athenaeum
Also known as
  • C. B. King
Newport, Rhode Island, United States
Washington, District of Columbia, United States
Active in
  • London, England
  • American

Following the lead of his fellow artists working in early America, King specialized in portraiture. He studied under Edward Savage in New York, then with Benjamin West in London. He returned to America in 1812 and worked in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. In 1818 he settled permanently in the nation's capital. There he painted portraits of many prominent figures, including John Quincy Adams, John Calhoun, Henry Clay, James Monroe, and Daniel Webster. Commissioned by the federal government, King painted more than one hundred portraits of Indian delegates, representing at least twenty tribes, who visited the capital from 1821 to 1842. His work stands today as a valuable record of early Indian leaders.

William Truettner, ed The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820–1920 (Washington, D.C. and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991)

Luce Artist Biography

Charles Bird King studied portraiture in New York and later with Benjamin West at the Royal Academy in London. Upon his return to America, he spent seven years traveling the East Coast in search of portrait commissions. In 1819 he opened a studio and gallery in Washington, where many prominent political figures hired him to paint their portraits. King spent many years thereafter creating portraits of Native Americans who had come to Washington as delegates of their tribes. He exhibited the portraits at the Smithsonian Institution until the paintings were destroyed in the fire of 1865. (Cosentino, “Charles Bird King: An Appreciation,” The American Art Journal, May 1974)

Related Books

Lure of the West: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Lure of the West: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum commemorates Treasures to Go, a series of eight exhibitions from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, touring the nation through 2002. The Principal Financial Group is a proud partner in presenting these treasures to the American people.