John Henry Dolph left his home in Ashtabula County, Ohio, at the age of fourteen after the death of his mother. He began his career by doing decorative painting on coaches and carriages. In 1855 he studied in Cleveland with Allen Smith and took up the practice of portrait painting. In 1863 he moved to New York City.
He turned to painting landscapes and genre scenes, gradually narrowing to a specialty in farmyard genre and animal life. Dolph found his farm scenes exciting little interest. In the 1870s, however, he began painting pictures of cats which sold well. Realizing that these pictures provided a guaranteed income, Dolph worked almost exclusively as the “leading cat-painter of America.”
Dolph was an active member of the New York art scene and helped organize the Society of American Artists. He became an associate member of the National Academy in 1877 and a full member in 1898. He exhibited at the National Academy from 1864 until the year of his death.
An example of his landscape paintings is Echo Lake, Franconia Notch.
Self-portrait, Paintings of the National Academy, page 164
Photo c. 1885, Smithsonian Archives of American Art
Paintings of the National Academy