The Last Amateur

The Life of William J. Stillman

By Stephen L. Dyson

Subjects: Biography, New York/regional
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Hardcover : 9781438452616, 390 pages, October 2014

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
1. A Schenectady Youth
2. The Making of an Artist and a Critic
3. Artist, Intellectual, Editor
4. From Editor to Consul
5. The Consular Years
6. The Cretan Years
7. The Photographer of Athens
8. Cultural Journalist
9. Archaeologist
10. Tragedy and Renewal
11. Reporter for The Times
12. The Return to Rome
13. The Final Years
Archival Sources

The authoritative biography of a nineteenth-century polymath.


Finalist for the 2014 ForeWord IndieFab Book of the Year Award in the Biography Category

This fascinating biography tells the story of William J. Stillman (1828–1901), a nineteenth-century polymath. Born and raised in Schenectady, New York, Stillman attended Union College and began his career as a Hudson River School painter after an apprenticeship with Frederic Edwin Church. In the 1850s, he was editor of The Crayon, the most important journal of art criticism in antebellum America. Later, after a stint as an explorer-promoter of the Adirondacks, he became the American consul in Rome during the Civil War. When his diplomatic career brought him to Crete, he developed an interest in archaeology and later produced photographs of the Acropolis, for which he is best known today. In yet another career switch, Stillman became a journalist, serving as a correspondent for The Times of London in Rome and the Balkans. In 1871, he married his second wife, Marie Spartali, a Pre-Raphaelite painter, and continued to write about history and art until his death. One of the later products of the American Enlightenment, he lived a life that intersected with many strands of American and European culture. Stillman can indeed be called "the last amateur."

Stephen L. Dyson is Park Professor of Classics at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. He is the author of several books, including Rome: A Living Portrait of an Ancient City.


"…Dyson's book will surely prove to be an invaluable resource to those working on the still under-analyzed field of nineteenth-century transatlantic artistic relations." — Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies

"…[a] stellar accomplishment, well researched and crisply presented." —Adirondack Explorer

"The book is well researched … and a welcome resource for advanced scholars." — CHOICE

"The Last Amateur, in splendid prose, proves that they don't make men like they used to." — ForeWord Reviews

"The Last Amateur is a meticulously researched and highly nuanced portrait of William J. Stillman, an important journalist, artist, and critic of mid-nineteenth-century America. Stephen L. Dyson provides outstanding context and a convincing case as to why Stillman deserves to be better known due to his keen intellect, prodigious output, and insightful views on art and culture. It's refreshing to see an academic who blends deep scholarship with an ability to write in a readable style that will satisfy both the scholar and the general readers. The result is a timeless classic." — Paul Grondahl, author of Mayor Corning: Albany Icon, Albany Enigma

"The Last Amateur is a complex and intriguing life history of a personality very much within the circles of the intellectual debates of the mid- and late nineteenth century on art, aesthetics, archaeology, geopolitics (especially in the eastern Mediterranean), and the development of photography. Stillman was sort of a Zelig character, and although he had an important influence on many of these areas of culture and society, he has been relatively little studied. The book is an important step in shedding light on the character and importance of Stillman." — Harvey K. Flad, coauthor of Main Street to Mainframes: Landscape and Social Change in Poughkeepsie