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William Matthew Prior

William Matthew Prior was an American folk portrait painter in the nineteenth century. Born in Bath, Maine in 1803, Prior was rumored to have apprenticed with Charles Codman (1800-1842) though little is known about his true training. A painting dated in 1824 indicates that he was producing work and traveling by the time he was 18 years old. From ads in a local newspaper the Maine Inquirer, he advertised for skills in painting, bronzing, oil gilding, varnishing, and completing drawings of machinery in the late 1820’s as well as being known as a limner. In 1829, he married Rosamond Hamblin, who was raised in a family of artists, and moved in the early 1830’s to Portland, Maine to live with Rosemond’s brothers Nathaniel, Joseph and Sturtevant J. Hamblen. They remained with her brothers until 1839 when they all moved to Boston to create an artistic community later known as the Prior-Hamblen School. Seven years later, Prior and his wife moved into their own residence, “The Painting Garret," a name which he dubbed his studio in East Boston. He began preparing his own canvases, grinding his paints and constructing his own frames for his paintings.

Throughout his life, he was known to restore paintings as well as create flat portraits for a lesser fee and more sophisticated portraits for a larger amount. The sophistication in his creations as well as his varied styles, ranging from academic compositions and flat works to creating pictures in reverse on glass kept him popular in all ranges of social classes. In his later years, he became more spiritual and claimed to be able to see and create portraits of deceased children. Prior to his death in 1873, William Prior wrote two books in support of the Advent Movement but remains known for his versatility and skill in mastering many different genres of art.

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