George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Isham Parkyns, 21 February 1795

From George Isham Parkyns

Philadelphia, February 21st 1795.


The Columbianum or National College for the encouragement of Painting, sculpture, Architecture, and Engraving, request the honor of Your Excellency’s permission to wait upon You with their Constitution for Your perusal,1 and beg leave to know the day and hour, when Your Excellency would be willing, that they should attend upon You for that purpose. I have the honor to be Sir, Your Excellency’s most obedient Servant,

Geo: I: Parkyns,

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

George Isham Parkyns (1749/50–c.1820) came to Philadelphia from Great Britain in 1794. He remained in America at least until 1800, executing during that time a number of aquatints of American scenes, including one of Mount Vernon that was printed in his Sketches of Select American Scenery (Philadelphia, 1799). He did, however, later return to England.

With this document are the proceedings of the association of artists from 29 Dec. 1794 to 5 Jan. 1795. On 29 Dec. sixteen signatories, including Parkyns, “from an earnest desire to promote to the utmost of our abilities, the Fine Arts—now in their infancy in America—Mutually promise and agree, to use our utmost efforts to establish a School or Academy of Architecture, Sculpture, Painting—&c. within the United States.” They then appointed a chairman, a secretary, and a committee of five “to call upon such respectable artists in Philada as have not attended the present meeting to obtain their signatures and to envite them to join the next meeting.”

On 1 Jan. the committee reported that despite the time limitations they had been able to add six artists, whom they named, and an additional eight men signed up. They then resolved that “a committee of nine be appointed more particularly to define the important objects to be embraced by this Society, viz., the fine arts and such branches of Science as are immediately or necessarily connected with them—thus to form the outlines of a Constitution—and to make their report at maturity.”

The committee then met on 2 Jan. and determined that “this association be known by the name of The Columbian Academy of Arts—established for the cultivation of Belles letters Architecture Sculpture Painting Engraving Perspective Anatomy—and such other Arts as may be necessary to form a Painter, Sculptor, Architect &c.” They would have as their “Premier Patron” the president of the United States and the governors as patrons. After specifying a number of officers, they decided that the “School of Painting” would “have four classes: Academicians, Associates, Students, and Honorary Members. “No person to be elected Academician who has not previously been an Associate—and no Associate to be elected but from the body of the Students, and who shall have studied in some of the schools for [ ] months.” The honorary members, after receiving their diplomas, were “to present within a limited time, some specimens of their own designing or workmanship, for the benefit of the institution, and to ornament the Gallery.”

The committee met again on 3 Jan. and created “The Constitution of the Columbian College established A.D. 1795. for the encouragement of Belles Letters, natural History, Physionomical anatomy and Zootomy, operative chymistry, Architecture, Sculpture, Historical painting, Landscape Painting, perspective, Engraving; and such other branches of science as may be connected with the theory and practice of painting, Sculpture architecture &c.” Two professors were to be elected for each department, one to be “residentiary.”

On 5 Jan. the committee decided “That the professors of universities in America, be admitted as Patrons, and that they be termed Literary Patrons.” The “classing of Honorary members” was “to stand over for consideration,” and scheduled reports on the various departments were also postponed.

For the full text of this document, see Miller, Peale Papers description begins Lillian B. Miller, ed. The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family. 4 vols. New Haven, 1983–96. description ends , 2:103–9.

To that point the artists had been united, but on 2 Feb. a group including Parkyns broke away, and they formed a new group whose title Parkyns used in this letter (Aurora General Advertiser [Philadelphia], 20 Feb.). The other group, which included the Peale family, called itself Columbianum or American Academy of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and Engraving, and the two groups were engaged in a spirited controversy at this time. When the College announced that a committee had been formed to examine “the talents and pretensions” of would-be artists (The Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser, 12 Feb.), the Academy promptly resolved that it was “the original Institution,” that “every attempt to qualify it to the contrary is a decoy to Artists and an imposition on the Public,” and that the advertisement was “Spurious” (Gazette of the United States and Daily Evening Advertiser [Philadelphia], 13 Feb.). The College responded with a public notice that “THE Founders of the COLUMBIANUM (with whom the name originated,) after experiencing considerable interruption, retired from Peale’s Museum; and having since discovered in the present Leader of that party a latent intention of perverting and cramping the original Idea of a National College into a contracted plan of an Academical Drawing-School, hold their meetings for the present at Mr. Groombridge’s house, with a positive determination of persevering, until the genuine purposes of their association are ultimately accomplished” (Gazette of the United States and Daily Evening Advertiser, 14 Feb.). Each group announced plans to hold an exhibition in May (The Level Of Europe and North America: Or the Observer’s Guide [Philadelphia], 9 Feb.; Gazette of the United States and Daily Evening Advertiser, 20 Feb.). For later effusions of the controversy, see The Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser, 2 March, and Gazette of the United States and Daily Evening Advertiser, 3, 4, 9, and 14 March, and 7 April. Ultimately, the Academy held an exhibition from 22 May to 6 July; the College did not present one.

1The constitution of the College has not been identified (the document printed as The Constitution of the Columbianum, or American Academy of the Fine Arts. Adopted February 17, 1795 [Philadelpia, 1795] was for the other Columbianum).

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