Self-taught artist Chester Harding became one of America’s most successful portrait painters. Harding was born in Conway, Massachusetts in 1792, the fourth of twelve children born to an unsuccessful dreamer-inventor father. At age twelve he was hired out to help with the support of his family. When he was fourteen, his family moved to western New York State. There Chester dabbled in a variety of occupations, including drummer boy during the War of 1812, drum-making, peddling, cabinetmaking, tavern-keeping, and decorative painting. In 1815 he married and attempted to settle in Caledonia, New York; but he and his family were forced to flee down the Allegheny River on a flatboat to escape imprisonment for debt. They stopped for a time in Pittsburgh, and eventually joined Chester’s brother Horace, a chair-maker and portrait painter in Paris, Kentucky. In Pittsburgh Harding had been inspired by an itinerant artist to attempt a portrait of his wife. He wrote in his memoir, My Egotistography of the experience: “I made a thing that looked like her. The moment I saw the likeness I became frantic with delight: it was like the discovery of a new sense.” One of his earliest influences in Kentucky was the work of Matthew Jouett. In 1820, he studied briefly at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. During his first six months back in Kentucky Harding received nearly one hundred commissions for portraits, charging twenty-five dollars for each one. Nevertheless, the poor financial climate in Kentucky caused the painter to relocate his family to Cincinnati and then St. Louis. While in Missouri, Harding painted the only life portrait of Daniel Boone, aged ninety. Over the next few years Harding traveled to paint in Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. In 1822-23 Harding spent several months painting in Boston, where, by his own report he achieved such great success that it inflamed Gilbert Stuart to comment: “How rages the Harding fever?” In 1823 Harding left for Europe. He was extremely successful in London, and his portraits were exhibited at the galleries of the Royal Society of British Artists and at the Royal Academy. Harding spent much time in Scotland as well, and sent for his wife and children in 1825, intending to settle in Glasgow. By 1826, however, due to an economic crisis, the artist returned to America. From this point on, Harding’s career was centered in Boston, although he continued to travel for commissions. During the 1840s Harding’s studio at 22 School Street was the center of artistic life in Boston. He painted many of the most important political figures of his day, and is thought to have painted over one thousand portraits in all. After the death of his wife in 1845, Harding closed his studio and went to Europe for nine months. Following his return to the U.S. he spent more of his time fishing with his artist friends Francis Alexander, Thomas Doughty, and Alvan Fisher than painting. He died in Boston in 1866.