Joseph Blackburn (1700-1780)

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Colonel Thomas Dowdeswell 1777

Colonel Thomas Dowdeswell 1777

Joseph Blackburn was a British portrait painter who worked mainly in Colonial America and Bermuda. Little is known about the exact details of Blackburn’s life. He was also known as Jonathan Blackburn and there seems to be a great confusion surrounding his birth and death dates. Some suggest that he was born most likely around 1730 and probably died around 1778. He painted in the rococo style and worked mainly in Boston from 1750 to 1765 painting portraits, and also was thought to have painted in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Portrait of James Bowdoin III and his Sister Elizabeth as Children 1760

Portrait of James Bowdoin III and his Sister Elizabeth as Children 1760

What is known for certain about Blackburn is that he was the son of a painter, and probably did not come to the America’s until after 1730. Blackburn also was said to have held a studio in Boston from 1750 until 1765, and was often commissioned by wealthy local families to paint their portraits. Among these families were some highly notable early Americans such as the Winthrops, Lowells, Winslows and the Apthorps. He was also often commissioned to paint portraits of government officials of the day.

Governor Benning Wentworth 1760

Governor Benning Wentworth 1760

Mrs. Theodore Atkinson 1760

Mrs. Theodore Atkinson 1760

Portrait of Thomas Wentworth 1761

Portrait of Thomas Wentworth 1761

It is also known that Blackburn was a mentor and teacher to the famous painter John Singleton Copley. In fact, their styles are so similar that for a long time many of Blackburn’s portraits were attributed to Copley. It is also thought that the reason that Blackburn eventually left Boston was due to jealousy over Copley’s fame.

Mary Sylvester 1754

Mary Sylvester 1754

Mrs. James Pitts: 1757

Mrs. James Pitts: 1757

James Pitts 1757

James Pitts 1757

Today, most of Blackburn’s portraits are still privately owned, some among the ancestors of his portrait sitters. The public library in Lexington, Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Historical Society also own some of his paintings. Today, Blackburn’s painting could turn up in Bermuda, Boston, New Hampshire, England and anywhere in between. Still wondering about that heirloom family portrait hanging in your home? Contact us…it could be by Joseph Blackburn.

Thomas Amory

Thomas Amory