- Just In
- Fine Art
- Boston, Philadelphia, Wilmington
Otis was born in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, the son of a physician, Josiah Otis, and Susanna Orr.
As a youth, he may have been apprenticed to a scythe maker, perhaps to a relative. Later he worked as a coach painter, then studied with Gilbert Stuart in Boston about 1805-1808. Otis then moved to New York City, perhaps working as an assistant to painter John Wesley Jarvis.
When he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1812, his painting career flourished. He was elected to the Society of Artists of the United States in 1812, and eight of his portraits were included in the combined exhibition of the Society of Artists and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He was elected an academician in the Pennsylvania Academy in 1824. One of Otis's most famous early works showed a scene inside a metalworking shop, probably a reflection of his years as an apprentice. In 1813 he married Alice Pierie of Philadelphia, and they had six children.
Otis patented the perspective protractor in 1815. With Philadelphia publisher Joseph Delaplaine he began painting portraits for “Delaplaine's Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished American Characters.” In 1816 Otis painted portraits of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Dolley Madison. In total, Otis painted twenty-four portraits for the “Repository,” though only the Jefferson portrait was published before the end of the project in 1818. Some of the remaining portraits were exhibited in Delaplaine’s Philadelphia gallery, which became part of Rubens Peale's New York museum.
Otis produced the first American lithograph, which was published in the July 1819 issue of Analectic Magazine, together with an article on the lithographic process.
According to Otis's notebooks for 1819 - 1826 record over 300 portraits painted, including portraits of John Neagle, the Reverend Shepard Kosciusko Kollock, Victor Marie du Pont, John Greenleaf Whittier, John C. Fremont, and the Reverend James Abercrombie. He painted a famous postmortem portrait of Philadelphia financier Stephen Girard. Other well-known sitters included James Fenimore Cooper, Thomas Garrett, and William Henry Harrison.
He worked mainly in Philadelphia, but also worked in Boston (1837, 1846-58) and in Wilmington, Delaware (1839, 1840s) and in Providence, Rhode Island (1858-61). His students included Henry Inman, Peter F. Rothermel and John Neagle.