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"The artist, William Trego, is a son of Jonathan K. Trego, formerly of Philadelphia, a portrait and animal painter of much more than a local reputation, and one of the finest colorists in America. Of course the son has had from his childhood the advantage of the careful training of his father in all the techniques of art, and his wonderful skill in drawing and coloring is, therefor, both hereditary and acquired."
-The Cleveland Press, 1879
During the mid and late nineteenth century, Jonathan Trego and his son, William, painted in and around Bucks County. Jonathan Trego was a prolific portraitist who also did genre paintings and images of life on the Western plains. His portraits were influenced by Thomas Sully, with whom he probably studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. These paintings were perceptive and refined in their portrayal of prosperous neighbors and, sometimes, their animals.
Portrait by William Trego. Bucks County Traveler, February, 1953. James A. Michener Art Museum archives.
Education and Training
Possibly trained with Thomas Sully but training was not documented
Teachers and Influences
Believed to be influenced heavily by Thomas Sully and Frederick Waugh
Connection to Bucks County
Although Jonathan Trego only lived briefly in Bucks County, he accepted commissions from its residents throughout his career. Born in Pinesville, Pennsylvania, Jonathan Trego resided in Yardley from 1858 to 1859. He painted many portraits of Bucks County residents and their farm animals. To this day, his portraits of judges hang in the Doylestown Courthouse.
Colleagues and Affiliations
His cousin, Edward Trego, an occasional resident of Doylestown, painted landscapes in watercolor as a hobby during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. William Trego, his son, also occasionally lived and worked in Bucks County.
Major Group Exhibitions
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, annual exhibitions, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1852-1888 (intermittent years)
Although Jonathan and William Trego were both successful painters, they perceived their roles as artists differently. Jonathan regarded himself as a tradesman, while his son, William, considered himself an artiste. Their disparate attitudes toward their careers reflect changes in the role of the artist in society.
Shaped by his Quaker origins, Jonathan Trego worked diligently at his art, humbly providing a service to his community. He painted portraits upon commission, creating fine likenesses of successful professionals and farmers and their families, and even of their prize animals. Jonathan was popular in the legal community; his paintings of judges still hang in the Doylestown courthouse. For Jonathan, portraiture was a craft, much like the other decorative arts.
William held a loftier sense of himself as an artist. Extremely ambitious, he studied in France and strained to be cosmopolitan. He specialized in history painting, traditionally the most prestigious of genres. William's ambition resulted in part from the increasing professionalization of art in the late nineteenth century. At this time, the notion of the artist as an aloof and moody genius emerged. A tortured and eccentric man, and ultimately a suicide victim, William conformed to this image, which his father, a successful and creative member of his community, would have deplored.