Joshua Shaw was an early leader of American landscape painting, who—along with Thomas Cole, Thomas Doughty, and Alvan Fisher—helped to establish the American tradition. Born in England, Shaw was an established artist known for his landscapes, portraits, and genre scenes, which followed the picturesque manner of Claude Lorraine. He exhibited at the Royal Academy of London and the British Institution until 1817, when Benjamin West asked him to shepherd his painting, “Christ Healing the Sick,” on its transport from London to Philadelphia. Shaw never returned home. He settled in Philadelphia and turned his attention to the American landscape, beginning his career anew at the age of forty-one.
Shaw saw the aesthetic potential of the American landscape and expressed its rugged beauty in his oil paintings, engraving, and letters. He traveled throughout the Eastern seaboard, from New England to Florida, and created a popular series of watercolors called “Picturesque Views of American Scenery.” The series was engraved by John Hill, published in 1817, and widely distributed. The collection contained a note from Shaw, who extolled the country’s unspoiled uniqueness: “Striking however and original as the features of nature undoubtedly are in the United States, they have rarely been made the subjects of pictorial delineation…America only, of all the countries of civilized man, is unsung and undescribed.”
As Shaw’s renown grew, he helped to found the Artist’s Fund Society and served as an honorary member of the National Academy of Design. He exhibited widely, showing his paintings at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Brooklyn Art Association, and the Philadelphia Art Club, as well as in galleries throughout Boston and Baltimore. His paintings are now featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.