Pavel Petrovich Svinin was born in Russia on June 8, 1787 (O.S.). He attended the School for the Nobility and the Academy of Fine Arts in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
After entering the foreign service at the age of 18, he was given the opportunity to travel around the world. In 1811, his travels brought him to the United States as the Secretary to the Russian Consul-General, based in Philadelphia.
Svinin traveled along the East Coast from Maine to Virginia (possibly further). Along the way, he sketched the American landscape, wrote articles and painted watercolors. He was fond of the similarities between the United States and his home country including tolerance for different religions. American steamboats and the public education system were also favorite subjects for the Russian diplomat. Additionally, he admired the American form of government, but did not understand the system of political parties.
He left the United States in June of 1813. Following his travels, he published his memoirs and watercolors, in addition to other illustrations from his American visit. His watercolors included images of the Natural Bridge and Niagara Falls. A large collection of Svinin's work can be seen at the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York City.