Looking through old Pittsburgh newspapers on microfilm I came across an ad for a portrait painter named James Lambdin. I had never heard of Lambdin, but the mention of his being a pupil of Thomas Sully in the ad caught my attention. I should have just Googled images, but not ever hearing of Lambdin I mistakenly assumed he was an artist lost to history. I headed to the census records at the library and on my way to the third floor decided to stop and search the auction records as well as catolog for books about Sully, which I hoped would mention Lambdin.
Both produced results that were suprisingly fruitful to me. I didn’t need to search census records to see when Lambdin moved to Pittsburgh–he was born here in 1807. I guess amateur historians like myself mistakenly assume most of the people and things, at least as they relate to a European cultural tradition, in early Pittsburgh came from Baltimore or Philadelphia. The newspaper ad was from 1824, not long before Lambdin left Pittsburgh. Lambdin headed South for Louisville and then trading time between Pittsburgh and Mobile, Alabama.
Lambdin then moved to Philadelphia (which may have had more imports like Lambdin from Pittsburgh than we often assume) where he spent most of the remainder of his life.
Its curious that Lambdin studied in Philadelphia under Thomas Sully from 1823-25 and yet placed the ad in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1824. Also his son, George Cochran Lambdin, also a noted artist, was born in Pittsburgh in 1830. Lambdin traveled to Washington and painted many portraits including presidents. he was a professor of fine arts at the University of Pennsylvania and an officer at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
William Russell Smith was a student of Lambdin.
Apparently the Carnegie Museum of Art has two works by James Lambdin, a portrait of Henry Clay and one of Benjamin Darlington. I am not sure whether these works are not on display or I have failed to notice them.