Historic, but not famous

William Dunlap, Artist, manager of Park Theater

William Dunlap (1766 – 1839) was a pioneer of American theater. He was a producer, playwright, and actor, as well as a historian. He was an artistic painter and managed two of New York City’s earliest and most prominent theaters, the John Street Theatre (from 1796–98) and the Park Theatre (from 1798–1805).

In 1783, he produced a portrait of George Washington, now owned by the United States Senate. He studied in Europe for a few years, but returned to New York in 1787 and worked exclusively in the theater for 18 years, returning to painting only when economically necessary. He produced more than sixty plays, most adaptations or translations from French or German works. He also wrote original plays based on American themes with American characters. He may be best known for the three-volume History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States. The encyclopedic work was published in 1834, and considered an invaluable source of information about artists, collecting, and artistic life generally in the colonial and federal periods.

In 1825 Dunlap was one of the founders of the National Academy of Design, and taught at its school. The academy is located near the Guggenheim museum on 5th Avenue across from Central Park.

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