Otis Bullard was born in Steuben County, New York, in 1816. At the age of fourteen, he became apprenticed as a sign painter under wagon builder Augustus Olmstead. By 1838 he had relocated to Hartford, Connecticut, to study portrait painting with artist Philip Hewins. He established a career painting portraits for patrons in New England and upstate New York, and in 1840 traveled to Amherst, Massachusetts to execute a portrait of ten-year old Emily Dickinson alongside her two siblings.
Bullard settled in New York City, continuing his work as a portraitist and creating historical and genre paintings. His scenes of everyday life often included a strong sense of narrative. He first exhibited at the National Academy, where he continued to show work through 1853. His also exhibited at the American Art Union between 1847 and 1848.
Bullard made his mark through the development of a panorama of New York City. It was a massive undertaking resulting in a six-foot high, 3,000-foot-long painting detailing images of Manhattan. Produced between 1846 and 1850 during a time of increasing industrialization, the work capturing the evolving urban setting for the eyes of far-off viewers in Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Davenport, Iowa. Audiences took in a two-hour presentation of the work, studying the city and its people as a vicarious tourist. The work was reportedly seen by hundreds of thousands of Americans, making it a significant precursor to the widespread dissemination of images through photography and film. Bullard took the helm in presenting the work, narrating presentations until the end of life in 1853.
Written by Zenobia Grant Wingate