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William Matthew Prior


Alias: William Henry Prior


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(b Bath, ME, 1806; d Boston, 1873) American Painter. William Prior is most well known for his portraits, though he did also execute some landscapes and experimented with painting on glass. In the early years of his career he traveled from town to town around New England in search of commissions; often compensated only with room and board. He specialized in stylized, flat portraits, especially of children. Though he was capable of more naturalistic, painterly works, most of his paintings are done in this abstract and flattened style because they could be executed more quickly and thus offered to patrons at lower cost. He advertised in the "Maine Inquirer" in 1831 that "persons who wished a flat picture can have a likeness whithout shade or shadow at one-quarter price". It is believed that Prior would often travel with partially completed templates onto which he would then add the sitter’s likeness and some identifying attributes. In 1841 Prior settled permanently in Boston, where he remained to the end of his very successful career.

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