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The Life of John White Abbott

Written by Brett Nelson

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Posted on October 06 2019

There are plenty of famous fine artists that were trained to be artists since their early childhoods, and who have more or less never known anything else. English artist John White Abbott was very different. Painting was a hobby he adopted much later in life than many other famous artists, many of whom were lifelong artists that were committed to it from the very beginning. John White Abbott was born in 1763, and his life was not the typical artist life.

 John White Abbott worked as a surgeon, and continued to work as a surgeon even though so many different opportunities were opening up for him throughout the world of fine arts. The Royal Academy would display his artwork from 1795 to 1805, but John White Abbott seems to have thought of himself as a surgeon first and foremost. History, however, seems to primarily remember him as an artist.

 The fact that John White Abbott was able to maintain such a diverse skill set is impressive in its own right. People that are committed to both the arts and the sciences in their own lives seem to be rare, which makes John White Abbott stand out by itself. Francis Towne, John White Abbott's friend an informal art teacher, helped make him the artist that he become.

 The artistic influence of many artists can be difficult to pin down entirely, and it's often very subtle and seemingly buried just beneath the surface. John White Abbott was heavily influenced by Francis Towne's art. The personal touch that John White Abbott brought to his work is much more subtle. He and Francis Towne are often studied together because of the effect that they had on each other. However, plenty of the more obscure Dutch masters also had an effect on John White Abbott and helped shape the development of his work. Today, Peter de Laes is not particularly well-known, but his work made all the difference in the world for John White Abbott.

 Many of the most famous fine artists of history primarily worked in oils. While John White Abbott also used oil paint, he was very fond of watercolor painting in a way that genuinely set him apart from many other artists from before and after his time. A lot of the work that was shown at the Royal Academy consisted of oil paintings, which could be a coincidence and could reflect a slight traditionalist bias on the part of the Royal Academy members. However, John White Abbott's watercolors and oil paintings are both very well-known today, as watercolor paintings have become more respected and commonplace.

 A lot of the colors in John White Abbott's paintings are very subtle and muted, almost making some of his paintings look vaguely like old-fashioned sepia photographs. He managed to create a lot of fine detail that becomes more apparent the closer one looks, given his skill with etching.

 John White Abbott may never have been a professional artist, according to some sources, since he may never have made any sales. He always supported himself as a surgeon, and probably always saw art as a side project. That perspective had some unexpected benefits, since it made his works that much easier to find. The art business can create an environment where artwork gets lots and forgeries get traded more often than the genuine article. John White Abbott was a modest artist until his death in 1851, and other people seemed to have made more of his work than he did.