David Johnston Kennedy was born in Port Mullin, Scotland in either 1816 or 1817. While in Scotland, Kennedy worked a variety of jobs including as a stonecutter, before immigrating with his family to Ontario, Canada in 1833. Kennedy was almost completely a self- taught artist. His only formal training came from a few lessons given to him by a local artist named Robert McMeiken just before leaving for Ontario.
Kennedy left Canada for Philadelphia in 1835. While in Canada, Kennedy had spent a few years working for his father. He helped his father to cut stone as well as assisting in farming the family's land. Kennedy never enjoyed either of these jobs, and was therefore eager to explore new territory. Kennedy stayed with his sister in Philadelphia for a short amount of time, but by the spring of 1836 he moved again, this time to Nashville, Tennessee. In Nashville, Kennedy worked for a dry goods store. He still had time to practice his art in his spare time, mostly painting miniatures. Unfortunately, while in Nashville, Kennedy fell ill. He returned to Philadelphia first, but then went back to Canada in 1837.
After regaining his strength, Kennedy returned again to Philadelphia, and soon married Morgianna Corbin, the granddaughter of Benjamin Fay who was the president of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. His new wife was well connected in Philadelphia and by 1839 had managed to find Kennedy a clerkship in the new office of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, which had just opened on Broad and Cherry Streets. Kennedy soon rose to the position of Purchasing and General Agent. Kennedy enjoyed this new life as a businessman and remained with the firm for more than twenty years. However, in his spare time Kennedy still continued to paint. Sometimes, he would show his watercolors at his Steam Power Printing Plant of Baker and Kennedy, which was located at 326 Chestnut Street. However, Kennedy only officially exhibited his work once: two landscape views of Scotland and Ireland at the Artists' Fund Society in 1841.
was forced to retire in 1861 due to failing eyesight, but he still continued
his career as an artist. He accepted assignments as a draftsman, and spent a
great deal of time finishing his watercolor drawings of Philadelphia scenes.
He worked on this collection until his death in 1898. Kennedy had once hoped
to publish them as a book, which he would title "Lights and Shades of Other
Days, Reminisces of the Past," but this project was never realized. However,
his albums containing his work were given to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Information compiled from Boston, MFA, D.J. Kennedy, Autobiography, typescript
Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art: Bicentennial Exhibition, April
11- October 10, 1976. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976.