Griffith - William Berczy

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Introduction

William Berczy was born Johann Albrecht Ulrich Moll in Wallerstein, Germany in 1744 (Markham Public Libraries 2008). He moved to Vienna, Austria at the age of eighteen, and afterwards he went on to study art at the University of Leipzig in Saxony, where he was likely a pupil of the neoclassical painter Adam Friedrich Oeser (Murray, MSN Encarta 2008).

Following the completion of his education, Berczy became an art dealer and a professional portrait painter in Switzerland and in Florence and Naples at the Hapsburg courts (National Gallery of Canada/Cybermuse 2008). He later moved to England to continue his work, and it was while he was living there that he was contracted to recruit a group of German settlers to New York State (National Gallery of Canada/Cybermuse 2008). Two years later, in 1794, he led the group to Markham, Upper Canada and settled in York (Murray, MSN Encarta 2008); this was done in the effort to take advantage of the land-grant offer from Governor Simcoe (Hudson's Bay Company 2008). From that point on, Berczy would consider himself a Canadian (Shipton, The Canadian Encyclopedia 2008).

Berczy lived in York (modern-day Toronto) for a short period, and then he moved to Quebec where he would live and work in Montreal and Quebec City; it was here where he was able to rely exclusively upon painting for making a living, and he painted a vast number of group and individual portraits (MacDonald 2002). In addition to painting portraits, he was also involved in architectural work and church decoration, including the design of the Montreal Christ Church in 1803 (Shipton, The Canadian Encyclopedia 2008).

Berczy was influenced by several painters, including Johann Zoffany, a German-born British artist who painted group portraits in a similar style to Hogarth and Devis (MacDonald 2002). These artists were known for the construction of portraits in the 'conversation piece' style, and this influence can be seen in Woolsey's group portraits (such as 'The Woolsey Family' and 'William McGillivray and His Family'). All of his works display his European background and classical training in terms of their composition and the style in which they are rendered.