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date: 07 August 2020

Simpson, William

American, 19th century, male.

Born c. 1818, in Buffalo; died 1872, in Boston.


William H. Simpson was apprenticed to the painter Matthew Wilson then settled in Boston in 1854 and there acquired a certain renown as a portrait painter. He was publicised by William Wells Brown, author of The Rising Sun, or the Antecedents and Advancement of the Colored Race, (1876) who also collected together most of the biographical material on the artist. He is above all known for his portraits of the Loguen (Jermain, a former slave who became bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in New York, and his wife Caroline). In these he showed a sensitive touch, giving his designs a dignified and serene presence. After the fashion of other Afro-American painters of the first half of the 19th century, the black people that he painted seem to be totally integrated into the society of their times, both in their attitude and in their costume. It is possible to see in the portraits the wish of the painter to assert himself according to contemporary aesthetic criteria as well as the wish of the designs to consolidate or to acquire social recognition. William Simpson appeared in thematic group exhibitions on Afro-American artists, such as: 1941, American Negro Art, 19th and 20th Centuries, Downtown Gallery, New York, 1945, 1967, Howard University, Washington DC.

Museum and Gallery Holdings

Washington DC (GA, Howard University): Bishop Jermain Wesley Loguen (1835, oil on canvas)


  • Greene, Caroll Jr.: ‘Perspective: The Black Artist in America’ in Art Gallery Magazine, periodical, New York, April 1970.
  • Dickason Cederholm, Theresa (ed.): Afro-American Artists. A Bio-Bibliographical Directory, Trustees of the Boston Public Library, Boston, 1973.
  • Lewis, Samella: African American art and artists, periodical, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1994.