John Wesley Jarvis (1781-1839)
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John Wesley Jarvis was an early American artist, and is considered by art historians to be one of the finest portrait painters of his time. Jarvis was born in South Shields, England, but came to the United States as a young boy and was the nephew of Methodist founder John Wesley. He grew up in Philadelphia but lived all over the United States from New York to Louisiana. Jarvis received his first artistic training from Edward Savage who taught him sign painting and engraving.
Although he had little instruction in academic painting, Jarvis began to take up portrait painting and found great success in it. He set up his first studio with fellow painter Joseph Wood in Maryland. While working alongside Wood, Jarvis painted miniatures and profiles.
He had many apprentices; among them was Henry Inman who was said to have painted the backgrounds on a number of his paintings. Although Jarvis mainly resided and worked in Maryland and New York, he traveled widely throughout the United States, even as far south as New Orleans where he often spent his winters.
Among Jarvis's portraits were the usual wealthy socialites as well as important figureheads from The War of 1812. Most of his portraits were executed in either New York or the southern states, though it is certain that he painted portraits wherever he may have traveled. One of his most famous portraits of General Andrew Jackson was executed in New Orleans.
He was also close friends with Washington Irving, whom he painted as well. Jarvis is hailed for his great and lifelike depiction of his sitters and is said to have been one of the first American portrait painters to study anatomy and teach himself to so affectively paint.
Jarvis was said to have been an eccentric, and historians say that he indulged in a strange lifestyle. Eventually, his work began to deteriorate and although in the height of his day he was very successful, it is said that Jarvis died in poverty.
Today, Jarvis's paintings are housed all over the United States in public and private collections such as the New York Historical Society and the New York City Hall. Still wondering about a family heirloom portrait hanging in your estate? Contact us...it could be by John Wesley Jarvis.