John Barnard Whittaker: Adelphi’s First Professor of Art
Adelphi University is proud to present artworks and archival materials by John Barnard Whittaker (1836-1926) from the University Art Collection and Archives and Special Collections.
John Barnard Whittaker was born at Templemore, Tipperary County, Ireland, on August 16, 1836. In 1847, Whittaker’s family, along with thousands of others, fled the Great Famine and immigrated to America. They settled in Brooklyn where John enrolled in Public School No. 1 but soon had to leave school to help his father, a decorator and painter, with his business.
Though Whittaker would never acquire a high school diploma, he would go on to continue his art education. He studied with noted miniaturist Thomas S. Cummings, and in 1862 was able to attend art classes at the Graham Institute (which would eventually develop into the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences).
In 1875, Whittaker became Director of the Art Department at Adelphi Academy and, subsequently, the first Professor of Painting and Drawing at Adelphi College. It is a position he would hold until 1916 when he retired and was made Emeritus Professor at the age of eighty. John Barnard Whittaker died on September 24, 1926.
Whittaker is best known as a portraitist although his work includes allegorical, historical, religious and still life subjects. He was very active in the Brooklyn art world of his time, frequently contributing to exhibitions hosted by the Brooklyn Art Association and National Academy of Design. Among his portrait commissions were two Brooklyn mayors, Henry C. Murphy (1810-1882) and John W. Hunter (1807-1900), the American baritone and radio singing star Reinald Werrenrath (1883-1953), and noted poet, abolitionist and editor of the New York Evening Post, William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878). Whittaker continued to paint well into his eighties at his residence and studio on McDonough Street in Stuyvesant Heights, Brooklyn.
The Origins of Art Education at Adelphi
In 1872, the principal of Adelphi Academy, Homer B. Sprague, hired artist and co-founder of the Western Academy of Art in St. Louis, Ferdinand Thomas Lee Boyle (1820-1906), to head the Academy’s newly launched art department.
In 1875 Boyle left Adelphi Academy and the portrait and figure painter John Barnard Whittaker (the subject of this exhibition) was hired to replace him. Under Whittaker, Adelphi’s fine arts program offered college-level classes (even before Adelphi was to become a degree-granting college in 1896) and functioned as an art school rather than an academic department, as students could take art classes without being required to attend the Academy. When Adelphi was chartered as a college, the courses in Whittaker’s non-degree-granting Adelphi School of Fine Arts were integrated with the regular college curriculum, particularly Adelphi’s early teaching training program. The Adelphi Art School was closed following Whittaker’s retirement in 1916, and art would not return as part of the Adelphi curriculum until after Adelphi moved from Brooklyn to Garden City.