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Alfred Thomas Agate

 Drawing - Andes Near Alparmarca. Peru by Alfred Thomas Agate

Andes Near Alparmarca. Peru

Alfred Thomas Agate (February 14, 1812 in Sparta, New York – January 5, 1846 in Washington, D.C.) was a noted American artist, painter and miniaturist.

Agate lived in New York from 1831 to 1838. He studied with his brother, Frederick Styles Agate, a portrait and historical painter. He later went on to study with Thomas Seir Cummings. By the late 1830s, Agate was exhibiting his work at the National Academy of Design in New York, and established himself as a skilled painter in oils. He was elected into the National Academy of Design as an honorary member in 1840.

Agate drew landscapes, portraits, and scientific illustrations. For much of his landscapes, Agate used a camera lucida, a device which projected the scene onto a piece of paper for purposes of tracing.

Agate created many artworks during his service with the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838–1842 under Charles Wilkes. He was especially good at botanical illustrations, and was the designated portrait and botanical artist of the expedition.[1]

The United States Exploring Expedition passed through the Ellice Islands and visited Funafuti, Nukufetau and Vaitupu in 1841.[2] During the visit of the expedition to the Ellice Islands (now known as Tuvalu) Alfred Thomas Agate recorded the dress and tattoo patterns of men of Nukufetau.[3]

Agate created the first known picture of Mount Shasta. Agate contributed more than half (173 of 342) of the sketches and paintings reproduced as lithographs illustrating the five volumes of the expedition's reports. He sketched the Oregon Territory, including a look into a Chinook Lodge, an Indian Burial Place, an Indian Mode of Rocking Cradle, and a picture of the wreck of one of the expedition's sailing ships at the mouth of the Columbia River.

After the expedition

Agate lived in Washington, D.C. from 1842 onward, but his health suffered severely from the expedition and he died four years later of consumption.

On Agate's death in 1846, the drawings passed to his widow, Elizabeth Hill Kennedy Agate, who later married Dr. William J. C. Du Hamel of Washington, D.C. In 1926, one of her daughters from this marriage, Elizabeth A. Du Hamel, sold them to the Naval Historical Foundation. The Naval Historical Foundation donated Agate's artwork to the Navy Art Collection in 1998.

Portrait of a native of the Gilbert Islands (then called the Kingsmill Islands), drawn by Alfred Thomas Agate (1841)

In 1841, Agate Passage near Bainbridge Island, Washington was named by Lt. Charles Wilkes in honor of Agate. Agate Island in Fiji was also named in honor of Agate. Botanist Asa Gray used Agate's drawings and the expedition's specimens for botanical reports, and named a violet, Agatea violaris, after him.

Tyler, David B. – 1968 The Wilkes Expedition. The First United States Exploring Expedition (1838–42). Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society

The extensive report of the expedition has been digitized by the Smithsonian Institution. The visit to the Ellice Islands (now known as Tuvalu) is described in Chapter 2 in volume 5, pp. 35–75, 'Ellice's and Kingsmill's Group',

Who Was Who in America: Historical Volume 1607–1896. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1963.


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