Matthew Henry Wilson (1814-1892)

The subjects of portraits by Matthew Henry Wilson sit tall. Not only by placement on the canvas, but through a proud, dignified pose with shoulders straight and head held high. A common pose, but particularly striking in the work of this English-born artist.

Matthew Henry Wilson was a nephew of Lord Mayor of London, Samuel Wilson (1791-1881), who assisted him after the boy’s father died when he was 10.  Wilson came to the United States at the age of 18. For three years he lived in Philadelphia where Henry Inman (1801-1846) was his mentor. In 1835, he returned to Europe. France was his destination and Edouard-Louis Dubufe (1820-1883), his artistic influence. Another reason for his return may have been his cousin, Mary Jane Kemp (1815-1860), whom he married in Paris at the British Embassy on July 2, 1836.

They soon sailed to America and settled in Buffalo, New York, where their  first child was born on April 10, 1837.  Their second child was born on January 3, 1840, in Brooklyn, New York, as were the rest of their six children, except a daughter, Mary Roberta, who was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in August 1848. The children’s birthplaces give some indication their father’s travels.

Brooklyn was the Wilsons’ preferred home, but for most of his adult life, the artist traveled frequently. He is known to have been in Ohio in 1840, in New Orleans in 1845, and later in Georgia and South Carolina. In 1847, the family was in Baltimore, but in 1850, Wilson was living in a hotel in Steubenville, Ohio. From 1856 to 1860, he worked in Boston. In 1860, the Wilson family was once again in Brooklyn. The artist’s hard work afforded them two servants. That same year, Matthew’s wife died.  She was only 45. He remarried a widow, Jane Marilla During the Civil War, he painted portraits in Washington, D.C., including Abraham Lincoln just two weeks before the assassination, the last known portrait of Lincoln from life.[1]

Wilson died in Brooklyn on February 23, 1892..

Owners of his portraits include the National Portrait Gallery, the State of MarylandSt. Johnsbury Atheneum His style is somewhat stiff. He flattened and highlighted temple and forehead and narrowed eyes  through shadows, heavy lids or both.


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[1] Family Trees; Dr. Peter Claus, “Wilson, Colonel Samuel (1792-1881),” Lord Mayors, Aldermen and Common Councilmen in the Victorian City of London,; United States Census Bureau, Seventh Census of the United States, “Residents of Hotel of B. W. Earl,” Steubenville, Jefferson, Ohio, July 18, 1850, Roll: M432_699; Page: 15B, lines 2-42 and 16A, lines 1-4 (Matthew Wilson, 16A, line 4); United States Census Bureau, Eighth Census of the United States, “Household of Mathew Wilson,” June 11, 1860, Brooklyn Ward 10 District 3, Kings, New York; Roll, M653_769, page 70, lines 29-35; 1870; United States Census Bureau, Ninth Census of the United States, “Household of Mathew Wilson,” Brooklyn Ward 1, Kings, New York, June, 1870, Roll M593_946; Page: 52B, lines 24-33; George C. Groce and  David H. Wallace, The New York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America: 1564-1860 (Yale University Press, 1957), 694; Jeffrey Weidman, Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900: A Biographical Dictionary (Kent State University Press, 2000), 954; Edna Talbot Whitley, Kentucky Antebellum Portraiture (National Society of Colonial Dames of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, 1976), 780.