Samuel Finley Breese Morse

(American, 1791 - 1872)

Samuel Finley Breese Morse was an American painter and inventor. After having established his reputation as a portrait painter, in his middle age Morse contributed to the invention of a single-wire telegraph system based on European telegraphs. He was a co-developer of the Morse code, and helped to develop the commercial use of telegraphy. Morse was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the son of a pastor. He went to Yale College to receive instruction in the subjects of religious philosophy, mathematics and science of horses. While at Yale, he attended lectures on electricity from Benjamin Silliman and Jeremiah Day, and supported himself by painting. After graduation he persuaded his father to allow him to pursue a career in art and sailed with Washington Allston to study in London in 1811.  His terra cotta statue of Hercules won a gold medal at the Society of Arts in 1812, and large paintings of The Dying Hercules and The Judgement of Jupiter won acclaim.  But when he exhibited the paintings in Boston upon his return in 1815, he found little public interest, and he turned to portraiture, traveling to different cities to find sitters. He spent three successful winters in Charleston, South Carolina, between 1818 and 1821.  In 1823 he established a studio in New York City, where his art matured. His best work of this period is represented by a large painting of the House of Representatives and two portraits of the Marquis de Lafayette. He founded the National Academy of Design in New York City in 1826 to promote the training and exhibiting of American artists and was its president and guiding spirit until 1842.