Frederick Randolph Spencer was an itinerant portraitist in New York City and upstate New York. In 1822 he entered Middleburg Academy, Genesee County, New York, but around this time became attracted to the work of Ezra Ames (1768-1836) in Albany and William Dunlap (1766-1839) in Utica, New York. He received at least some instruction from Dunlap and in 1825 went to New York City, where for about two years he drew from the casts in the American Academy of Fine Arts and received some instruction from its president, John Trumbull (1756-1843). He painted portraits near his family's home in Canastota, New York, and then for several years in Albany and Utica before settling in New York City about 1831. His portrait practice flourished, and he rose rapidly in the esteem of his fellow artists. He was elected an academician of the American Academy of Fine Arts in 1832 and a member of its board of directors from 1833 to 1835. He was elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1837 and academician in 1846, and served as an officer of the organization in 1849 and 1850. He retired to upstate New York in 1858 but continued to paint until his death in 1875. Although he was primarily a portraitist, Spencer exhibited genre paintings occasionally from 1839 to 1852.
William Dunlap, History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States (1834; 3d ed., rev. and enl., New York: Benjamin Blom, 1965), 3:243-44 § Obituary, Art Journal (New York) n.s. 1 (May 1875): 160 § Laurence B. Goodrich, "A Little, Noted Aspect of Spencer's Art," I 90 (September 1966): 361-63 § Utica, N.Y., Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute (cosponsored by Oneida Historical Society, Fountain Elms), A Retrospective Exhibition of the Work of Frederick R. Spencer, 1806-1875, exh. cat., 1969, with biography by Susan C. Crosier, list of signed and attributed works.