David J. Kennedy (painter)

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The inn at Gray's Ferry, as painted by David J. Kennedy in August 1864.

David Johnston Kennedy (1816 (1817?)-1898) was a railroad agent and amateur painter who produced more than 1,000 watercolors of Philadelphia. Today, the works are valued by historians as images of a past era.[1]

Born in Port Mullin, Scotland, Kennedy worked various jobs, including as a stonecutter, and took a few painting lessons. In 1833, his family emigrated to Ontario, Canada. Two years later, he moved to Philadelphia, and stayed briefly with his married sister. In 1836, he moved again to Nashville, Tennessee, where he worked for a dry goods store and practiced painting, mostly miniatures, in his spare time. But he soon fell ill, and returned to Philadelphia, and then to Canada in 1837. After recovering, he moved back to Philadelphia, where he married Morgianna Corbin, the granddaughter of Benjamin Fay, president of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. His wife's connections found him a job as a clerk in the new office of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad at Broad and Cherry Streets. He worked for the Reading for more than two decades, rising to be a purchasing and general agent. Failing eyesight forced him to retire in 1861, but he continued to paint until his death.[2]

During his half-century of painting, he captured grand houses, railroads, street scenes, and other buildings in and around Philadelphia; of particular note are the pictures he did of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition.[3] The paintings are appreciated for their detail, the notes he often left on them, and for "recording an environment that was very rapidly changing during the decades he was observing it."[1]

Today, many of his paintings are held by various Philadelphia-area historical societies.[4] The largest collection, held by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania,[5] consists of forty boxes, two folders of indices and inventories, eight volumes and one oversized folio.[3] Overall, it covers 66 linear feet.[6]


  1. ^ a b Cohen, Jeffrey A. (Jan–Feb 2000). "Evidence of Place: Resources Documenting the Philadelphia Area's Architectural Past". Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 124 (1/2): 145–201. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  2. ^ Arkin, Chelsea. "Who was David Johnston Kennedy?". The David Johnston Kennedy Collection. Bryn Mawr. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "The Arts: Fine Arts, Music, and Performing Arts". PACSCL HIDDEN COLLECTIONS PROCESSING PROJECT. Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL). Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Philadelphia in Watercolor". Mirror of a City: Views of Philadelphia Recently Acquired from the Jay T. Snider Collection. Library Company of Philadelphia. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  5. ^ Newhall, Edith (September 13, 2009). "A muted tint to displays of artwork". FOCUS ON GALLERIES. The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved March 15, 2013. 
  6. ^ "David J. Kennedy watercolors collection". Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 

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