(American born England, 1779 - 1851)

Port of Philadelphia

Oil on canvas, 20 x 30 inches

This detailed view of Philadelphia harbor depicts Spark’s Shot Tower on the left, the old Navy Yard, and Christ Church steeple.
Born in England, Thomas Birch became the earliest and most notable marine painters in America. He began painting large and miniature portraits in oil and watercolor and also did marine subjects, becoming noted for ship portraits, and seascapes especially with naval battles of the War of 1812.  Some of the best known of these paintings are The ‘Constitution’, The United States and The Macedonian.
Thomas Birch was born in Warwickshire, England, son of the enamel and miniature painter William Russell Birch (1755-1834). He and his father settled in Philadelphia in 1794 and produced popular sets of engravings that documented the city’s growth such as The City of Philadelphia (1800) and Country Seats (1808). Thomas Birch began to paint portraits around 1806, and soon gravitated to the subjects that made him famous, landscapes, winter scenes, and marine scenes.
Birch also painted numerous winter scenes throughout his career, perhaps influenced by the popularity of sleighing and skating in Philadelphia. His landscapes represented the more rustic tradition of English painting and although the subject matter was either the Pennsylvania of New Jersey countryside, Birch’s imagination was oriented toward seventeenth century Dutch painting as he was influenced by artists Jan van Goyen and Salomon van Ruysdael.

Birch frequently exhibited his work at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Artists’ Fund Society, formed in 1835. His art was influential in the later development of the Hudson River School of painting and the style of romantic realism, characterized by romanticized and idealistic depictions of nature and American landscapes.

About the Artist

(American born England, 1779 - 1851)

Thomas Birch, son of the well known artist William Birch (1755-1834), was one of early America's foremost marine artists and the founder of the Philadelphia tradition of marine painting. He was born in England and came to the United States with his family when he was fifteen. He learned the technical skills of engraving from his father, and in 1799-1800 they published their widely known series of Philadelphia views.

Birch studied his father's art collection, which included marine works by Dutch artists such as the Van Ruisdaels and Jan Van Goyen (1596-1656) and by the French artist Claude Joseph Vernet (1714-1789). It was, however, after a trip to the Delaware capes in 1805 that he became a serious marine artist.

In the History of American Marine Paintings ([Boston: The Peabody Museum of Salem, Massachusetts, 1968], p. 103), John Wilmerding suggests that while Birch was aware of the English school, his style more truly reflects the old Dutch and French marine traditions. Although his works are predominantly topographical views of the Philadelphia area, his oeuvre includes scenes of the mid Atlantic and New England coastal regions as well.