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William Emlen CRESSON

Painter / Illustrator

Born: 15 March 1843, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA

Died: 5 August 1868, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA

William Emlen Cresson was the only child of Emlen and Priscilla Pritchett Cresson. ​William had been a child prodigy painter who began exhibiting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts at the age of 11. A lover of art and the creative spirit, after his death his family established the Cresson Prize at the Academy. This 'traveling scholarship' is a two-year scholarship for foreign travel. Laura Wheeler Waring, the first African-American woman to win the Cresson Prize was studying in Paris in 1914 when World War I broke out. The award exists still. 

Although William Cresson was born (and subsequently died) in Philadelphia, he spent a number of years living and working in Columbia. Perhaps this gave him time away to work without the interruptions of city life, yet be close enough to Philadelphia to remain in touch with family and associates. 

William Cresson officially entered the Pennsylvania Academy at age 17, in 1860, and also became a member of the prestigious Philadelphia Sketch Club, serving as secretary in 1863 and 1864.

He went on to be highly regarded for his creation of humorous pen and ink drawings illustrating stories appearing in nationally circulated magazines of the period. Often satirical, many of these illustrations recorded the relationships between artist and patron. They were often accompanied by a lengthy, witty caption. For example, A pupil that is all in his eye, Peter Paul Rembrandt Lemon Peel, visited by Mr. A. L. Shoddy, only thinly veils Cresson's reference to Rembrandt Peale, who died at 83 in 1860, and had held almost legendary status at the Pennsylvania Academy for half a century. The scene of the sketch shows Peale fainting upon being shown the work of Mr. Shoddy's son—a tongue-in-cheek reference to wealthy members of Philadelphia society who sent their untalented youth for education by the long-suffering Peale. William must have been a real pistol.


He died at age 25. No reason for his death at such a young age can be found. Indeed, it's been difficult to find out more about him, especially about his years in Columbia. Should we find more, we'll share it here.

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