Charles Bird King (1785-1862) Biography

Charles Bid King was born in Newport, Rhode Island in 1785, of Deborah Bird and Captain Zebulon King. Charles's family had moved west but his father was killed by Indians near Marietta, Ohio. Thus, Charles and his mother returned to Newport, Rhode Island. After studying under Samuel King in Newport, Charles headed to New York at the age of fifteen to study under the portrait painter Edward Savage, and later on to London to study under Benjamin West and Thomas Sully. In 1816, Charles closed his studio in Philadelphia and moved to Washington D.C. where he became the "principal artist-in-resident" - not so much from his painting skills, but his social abilities among politicians.

In 1821, Charles received a commission from his friend, Thomas L. McKenney, Superintendent of Indian Trade, to paint portraits of eight Western Indians brought to Washington D.C. to meet the U.S. President. By 1837, Charles had painted about 90 portraits, when Thomas L. McKenney created the National Indian Portrait Gallery. The Gallery was transferred to the Smithsonian and, all but three were lost in the great fire of 1865. Fortunately, many of the paintins exist in copies that Charles had made and in lithographs published in 1836-1844, by Thomas McKenney and Hall in their 3 voglume works,History of the Indian Tribes of North America. Charles remained in Washington D.C. until his death on March 18, 1862. Even though Charles had wealth and social standing, he never married.

McKenney-Hall prints (Thomas Loraine McKenney and James Hall) are original hand-colored lithograph from the 1868 royal octave edition of Thomas McKenney and James Hall's "History of the Indian Tribes of North America." The majority of the portraits in this series were painted by Charles Bird King for the War Department under commission from McKenney superintendent of Indian Affairs.

Available Works

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