Artists & Designers

Francis Guy (1760-1820)

British-born Francis Guy came to the United States in September 1795, after working as a silk dyer in London. He continued that career in New York and in Baltimore until a 1799 fire destroyed his business. His subsequent decision to become a full-time painter was surprising, since Guy had no formal art training. Nevertheless, with the assistance of patrons such as Baltimore's noted early collector Robert Gilmor, who allowed him to copy pictures, Guy developed a charming, distinctive set of views of landmarks around Baltimore, helped both by a collaboration with furniture makers John and Hugh Finlay, who commissioned him to paint small scenes on their wares; and by the popular Exchange Coffee House in Baltimore, which displayed his works as murals for years. Returning to Brooklyn in 1817, Guy mounted his most ambitious exhibition yet, consisting of eighty works at the Shakespeare Club in New York in 1820. Sadly, before the run of the exhibition had finished, Guy died at the age of sixty, on August 12, 1820.

His critical reputation initially faltered with the withering remarks of William Dunlap, the father of American art history, who met Guy in 1806 and dismissively wrote in 1834: "Was originally a tailor of Baltimore. He attracted some attention by his attempts at landscape painting, and finally made it his profession and found employers...His style was crude and harsh, with little to recommend his efforts, which now would not be tolerated." [1] Guy's reputation was given a boost by the elderly Rembrandt Peale, whose 1856 Reminiscences treat Guy kindly. Well-known in Brooklyn for his Brooklyn Snow Piece, an early acquisition by the fledgling Brooklyn Museum of Art, Guy's national reputation began to be rehabilitated in the early 20th century and has steadily grown since then to considerably differ from Dunlap's first assessment. Indeed, he is now highly regarded as one of America's earliest landscape artists.

[1] William Dunlap, History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design of the United States, vol. 2 (1834), 292.

Adapted from

William Rudolph, DMA unpublished material (2008.23.McD), April 2008.

Related Multimedia

Learn about Francis Guy (1760â0131820).
Collections smartphone audio about artist Francis Guy; related to Winter Scene in Brooklyn (2008.23.McD) DMA Collection