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William Holbrook Beard

William Holbrook Beard was an American painter known for his satirical animal portrayals. Born on April 13, 1824, in Painesville, Ohio, William Holbrook Beard never received any formal training beyond painting alongside his brother. In 1856, he traveled to Europe to study artwork and paint with other artists but returned to Buffalo, NY after two years. He remained in Buffalo for a year and helped to establish the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, then moved to New York City to open a studio in 1859.

He established himself as an animal portrait painter in his earlier career but began to create more satirical paintings once he returned from Europe. After a trip to Colorado in 1866, Beard began to favor painting his animal subjects anatomically correct, but using more imagination in other aspects. They began to take on anthropomorphic characteristics with a focus on human vices, such as jealousy, pride, drunkenness, and greed. He seemed to especially enjoy painting bears in a human light, giving them clothing at times and human facial expressions. He also favored allegorical paintings of other animals such as rabbits, cats, monkeys and squirrels, and occasionally fantasy objects with political undertones.

Though his work had both critics and admirers, Beard’s fame had lessened by his death in February 1900 and he died quietly in New York City.

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