Washington Allston was an American painter and poet, born in Waccamaw Parish, South Carolina. Allston pioneered America's Romantic movement of landscape painting. He was well known during his lifetime for his experiments with dramatic subject matter and his bold use of light and atmospheric color. While his early artworks concentrate on grandiose and spectacular aspects of nature, his later pieces represent a more subjective and visionary approach.
Allston was born on a rice plantation on the Waccamaw River near Georgetown, South Carolina. His mother Rachel Moore had married Captain William Allston in 1775, though her husband died in 1781, shortly after the Battle of Cowpens. Moore remarried to Dr. Henry C. Flagg, the son of a wealthy shipping merchant from Newport, Rhode Island.
Named in honor of the leading American general of the Revolution, Washington Allston graduated from Harvard College in 1800 and moved to Charleston, South Carolina for a short time before sailing to England in May 1801. He was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in London in September, when painter Benjamin West was then the president.
From 1803 to 1808, he visited the great museums of Paris and then, for several years, those of Italy, where he met Washington Irving in Rome and Coleridge, his lifelong friend. In 1809, Allston married Ann Channing, sister of William Ellery Channing. Samuel F. B. Morse was one of Allston's art pupils and accompanied Allston to Europe in 1811. After traveling throughout western Europe, Allston finally settled in London, where he won fame and prizes for his pictures.
Allston was also a published writer. In London in 1813, he published The Sylphs of the Seasons, with Other Poems, republished in Boston, Massachusetts, later that year. His wife died in February 1815, leaving him saddened, lonely, and homesick for America.
In 1818, he returned to the United States and lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for twenty-five years. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1826. He was the uncle of the artists George Whiting Flagg and Jared Bradley Flagg, both of whom studied painting under him.
The first American exhibition of Allston's work was in 1827 when twelve of his paintings were shown at the Boston Athenæum.
In 1830 Allston married Martha Remington Dana (daughter of Chief Justice Francis Dana), the sister of the novelist Richard Henry Dana; Dana was a cousin of Allston's first wife.
In 1841, he published Monaldi, a romance illustrating Italian life, and in 1850, a volume of his Lectures on Art, and Poems.
Allston died on July 9, 1843, at age 63. Allston is buried in Harvard Square, in "the Old Burying Ground" between the First Parish Church and Christ Church.