Paul Revere as Artist

Paul Revere, The Bloody Massacre, n.d.

I watched the first episode of the John Adams miniseries last night. The beginning of the episode revolves around the Boston Massacre, and at one point, John Adams briefly holds a print which depicts the massacre (shown above). My husband mentioned that he thought the patriot Paul Revere was the engraver of the print. I had never heard before that Paul Revere was an engraver, but my husband was right. Both the The National Gallery of Art and Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) own copies of this engraving (see here and here).1

Actually, Paul Revere made many engravings. Many of them were political, and some were just decorative. Here is are two other engravings by Revere:

Paul Revere, The Able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught. (Royal American Magazine, June 1774; National Archives)

Paul Revere, William Wetmore Bookplate, n.d. (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

It isn’t very surprising that Paul Revere dabbled in engraving, since he was a silversmith by profession. (It’s always funny for me to think that Paul Revere actually had a day job – I always associate him with his infamous horse ride, not normal day-to-day life.) Here are some examples of Revere’s handiwork in silver:

Paul Revere, Tea Service, 1792-93 (Minneapolis Institute of Arts)

I think one of my favorite silver pieces by Revere are this silver teaspoon and this silver teapot and stand. You can see some of Revere’s other engravings and silver pieces in the online collection of the Addison Gallery of American Art.

My final thoughts on Revere as an artist? I think he was a fantastic silversmith, but his engravings are just alright. It appears that Revere wasn’t too passionate about engraving; he mostly used the medium for political propaganda.2 I think this lack of artistic passion separates the quality of Revere’s engravings from his beautiful silver work. For example, The Bloody Massacre has several problems with linear perspective (look at the orthogonal lines of the buildings) and disproportionate figures.

I don’t want to be too harsh, though. Really, Revere’s massacre engraving has a quaint, folksy aesthetic. And hey, that’s just the kind of art that a patriot should create. It has kind of a “by the people, for the people” feel, right?

1 Paul Revere is often referred to as “Paul Revere II” since his father, Apollos Rivoire, assumed the name Paul Revere upon emigrating to America.

2 See Esther Forbes, Paul Revere and the World He Lived in (New York: Mariner Books, 1999), 110 (available online here).

  • ixoj says:

    I like it! Actually, I like it because it was made by Paul Revere, and I had no idea he was artistic or that he did anything besides ride a horse around the countryside. Very interesting!

  • heidenkind says:

    A lot of early American (i.e. European-American) art doesn't use perspective. I wonder if that's a result of the colonists' interaction with American Indians? I think it's kind of charming, actually. 🙂

  • joolee says:

    Hm, I honestly didn't know these facts about Revere. But I dabbled in silver here at the Portland Art Museum when I worked there, so I learned an appreciation for it. Got to go down in the vault to take pics, measurements, and handle the pieces, while entering them into databases. Quite fun!

    My husband and I LOVED the miniseries – it was done really well, I think. I have yet to read John Adams by McCullough….yikes, it's a huge book!

  • Kiersten says:

    There seems to be a huge variety of artistic skill levels at that time in America. I think most people were content with folksy drawings or portraits, though. The best artists of the time, such as Benjamin West, John Singleton Copley, and Charles Wilson Peale, all spent a considerable amount of time training in England. I've always really liked Copley's Portrait of Paul Revere .

  • Kiersten says:

    Oh, and the John Adams series is really good. I just watched it a few weeks ago, actually. They did change around a few facts and dates, though. I thought it was interesting to compare the way the series portrayed some of the events with what really happened.

  • M says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. I'm not familiar with a tons of early American art, but I have noticed that many artists seem content to produce folksy drawings (without much interest in perspective, etc.). And Kiersten, thanks for providing a link to Copley's portrait of Paul Revere. I was going to include that painting in this post, but then I forgot. I like it a lot, too. It's fun to see Paul Revere portrayed with both silver work and engraving tools.

    The miniseries is quite good – I watched the second episode last night. I haven't read McCullough's John Adams yet, but I have read 1776. It's fun to compare what I read with what is included in the show.

  • e says:

    Wow! I had no idea! You brought up a really excellent point — I guess I had never even considered the fact that Revere had a real job and lived probably a boring, normal life like everyone else. Still, it's pretty amazing to think he did art both by trade and for fun and/or political reasons.

    I'm way bummed that his stuff isn't currently on display. It'd be cool to see it in person.

    And thanks yet again for this blog. Ever since I finished school, I'm deeply afraid of my brain turning to mush. I loved grad school in that it forced my brain to think critically and analytically. Sometimes that caused some major stress, but I can honestly say that I really miss being pushed in thought-provoking ways. I feel like your blog helps me to keep thinking critically and to analyze, especially since I have no art background (but have always loved it)!

  • Hels says:

    Having studied the arrival of the Huguenots in Britain, Germany, Netherlands and South Africa, I was very interested to see which Huguenot families later re-emigrated to the USA.

    Apollo Rivoire and his children were enormously successful Huguenots who made an important contribution to silver art, dentistry etc. Apollo was good; Paul his son was even better.

    Anericans will find it hilarious that Paul Revere was well known and loved during his own life time, but not because of his patriotic ride. In fact historians are often dismayed with a depiction of Revere as the only, or even the main rider.

    But his silver was always highly valued, during his own lifetime and since. As a non-American historian, it is his silver that I treasure the most.

    Art and Architecture, mainly

  • M says:

    I wondered what international historians would think of Paul Revere and this post! Thanks for your comment, Hels.

    I've sometimes wondered if Paul Revere's silver work is "revered" by Americans because it was produced a famous patriot (instead of true appreciation for the craftsmanship). It's nice to hear that a non-American also appreciates his work in silver!

  • buggs says:

    Was paul revere silver ever recovered the second time it was stolen?

  • M says:

    Hi buggs, thanks for your comment! I wonder if you're referring to the Old North Church silver heist. This theft (which included a baptismal bowl made by Paul Revere) was stolen in 1969, but the silver was later recovered. I'm not aware if there was a second heist. You may be referring to a different heist. If you have a link for any more information, I'd be happy to look into it and see if I can find out anything else. Art crime is one of my favorite topics, so it would be a fun research project for me.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.