Robert Fulton (American, 1765–1815)
Watercolor on ivory
3 21/32 x 2 13/16 in. (9.3 x 7.1 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1914 (14.135)
An artist and engineer who began his career as a multi-talented silversmith's apprentice and carriage designer, Robert Fulton probably learned the art of miniature painting from Charles Willson Peale and his brother James Peale in Philadelphia. During the winter of 1786, Fulton was in Petersburg, Virginia, where he advertised his talents not only for painting tiny portraits, but also for the attendant hairwork and jewelry settings. His miniatures are delicate and comely, characterized by the sitters' pursed lips and narrow shoulders. Fulton studied with Benjamin West beginning in 1786 and remained in England for twenty years, learning from West, exhibiting at the Royal Academy, and honing his skills as a painter in oils and watercolor. Upon his return to Philadelphia in 1806, he mounted an exhibition of pictures by West and othersa collection he had assembled while abroadat the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. After this, his interest turned almost entirely to experimentation in steam travel. Fulton studied canal boats, submarines, and torpedoes and in 1807 his steamboat, The Clermont, made its first commercial voyage, from New York to Albany.