When Winthrop Chandler died on July 29, 1790, his obituary in the Massachusetts Spy read, “Died at Woodstock, Connecticut, Winthrop Chandler of this town, a man whose native genius has been serviceable to the community in which he resided. In profession he was a house painter, but many likenesses on canvas shew he could guide the pencil of a limner.”
He was more than that, though; Winthrop Chandler was also a gilder, carver, illustrator and painter of portraits and landscapes.
He was born April 6, 1747, the youngest of 10 children, to William Chandler, a farmer, and Jemima Bradbury Chandler. His father died when he was a boy, in 1754. He didn’t travel far from home, save to serve an apprenticeship to a portrait painter in Boston. When he returned to Woodstock he painted portraits of his relatives and town notables, as well as landscapes of the local gentry.
His work is that ‘of a highly gifted folk painter,’ observed Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser, in The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art. Chandler didn’t fight in the Revolutionary War, though many of his family members did on both sides. Chandler himself painted for both patriots and Loyalists. Gen. Timothy Ruggles, was a Loyalist whose estate (pictured above) was confiscated. Massachusetts banished him and he settled in Nova Scotia.
Chandler married Mary Gleason of Dudley, Mass., in 1782. The couple moved to Worcester, Mass., in 1785, perhaps in search of work. He is known to have painted houses and regilded the weathervane on the courthouse His Spy obituary suggests he was disappointed in life: “The world was not his enemy, but, as is too common, his genius was not matured on the bosom of encouragement,” it read. “Embarrassment, like strong weeks in a garden of delicate flowers, checked his enthusiasm and disheartened the man.”
This story was updated in 2019.