February 19, 1766|
Perth Amboy, New Jersey
|Died||September 28, 1839
New York, New York
|Education||Studied painting in London under Benjamin West|
|Occupation||Painter, Playwright, Historian|
|Employer||Park Theatre, New York City|
|Known for||Founded National Academy of Design|
William Dunlap (February 19, 1766 – September 28, 1839) was a pioneer of the American theater. He was a producer, playwright, and actor, as well as a historian. He managed two of New York's earliest and most prominent theaters, the John Street Theatre (from 1796–98) and the Park Theatre (from 1798–1805). He was also an artist, despite losing an eye in childhood.
He was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the son of an army officer wounded at the Battle of Quebec in 1759. In 1783, he produced a portrait of George Washington, now owned by the United States Senate, and later studied art under Benjamin West in London. After returning to America in 1787, he worked exclusively in the theater for 18 years, resuming painting out of economic necessity in 1805. By 1817, he was a full-time painter.
In his lifetime he produced more than sixty plays, most of which were adaptations or translations from French or German works. A few were original: these were based on American themes and had American characters. However, he is best known for his encyclopedic three-volume History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States, which was published in 1834, and which is now an invaluable source of information about artists, collecting, and artistic life generally in the colonial and federal periods.
Among his plays were the following:
- The Father (1789)
- Andre (1798)
- The Stranger (1798)
- False Shame (1799)
- The Virgin of the Sun (1800)
- Memoirs of George Frederick Cooke (1813)
- A Trip to Niagara (1828)
- History of the American Theater, 2 vols. (1832)
Further reading 
- William Dunlap. A history of the rise and progress of the arts of design in the United States, new ed. Boston: C.E. Goodspeed & Co., 1918; p. 344. v.1; v.2; v.3 Google books
- Wilmeth, Don B. and Christopher Bigsby, eds. The Cambridge History of American Theatre, Volume I: Beginnings to 1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
- Lyons, Maura. William Dunlap and the Construction of an American Art History. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005.
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