Selling Andrew Jackson
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211 pages
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Selling Andrew Jackson is the first book-length study of the American portrait painter Ralph E. W. Earl, who worked as Andrew Jackson's personal artist from 1817 until Earl's death in 1838. During this period Jackson held Earl in close council, even providing him residence at the Hermitage, Jackson's home in Tennessee, and at the White House during his presidency. In this well-researched and comprehensive volume, Rachel Stephens examines Earl's role in Jackson's inner circle and the influence of his portraits on Jackson's political career and historical legacy.

By investigating the role that visual culture played in early American history, Stephens reveals the fascinating connections between politics and portraiture in order to challenge existing frameworks for grasping the inner workings of early nineteenth-century politics. Stephens argues that understanding the role Earl played within Jackson's coterie is critical to understanding the trajectory of Jackson's career. Earl, she concludes, should be credited with playing the propagandistic role of image-shaper—long before such a position existed within American presidential politics. Earl's portraits became fine art icons that changed in character and context as Jackson matured from the hero of the Battle of New Orleans to the first common-man president to the leader of the Democratic party, and finally to the rustic sage of the Hermitage.

Jackson and Earl worked as a team to exploit an emerging political culture that sought pictures of famous people to complement the nation's exploding mass culture, grounded on printing, fast communications, and technological innovation. To further this cause, Earl operated a printmaking enterprise and used his portrait images to create engravings and lithographs to spread Jackson's influence into homes and businesses. Portraits became vehicles to portray political allegiances, middle-class cultural aspirations, and the conspicuous trappings of wealth and power.

Through a comprehensive analysis of primary sources including those detailing Jackson's politics, contemporary political cartoons and caricatures, portraits and prints, and the social and economic history of the period, Stephens illuminates the man they pictured in new ways, seeking to broaden the understanding of such a complicated figure in American history.


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Date de parution 15 juin 2018
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EAN13 9781611178678
Langue English
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SELLING ANDREW JACKSON
SELLING ANDREW JACKSON

Ralph E. W. Earl and the Politics of Portraiture
RACHEL STEPHENS

The University of South Carolina Press
2018 University of South Carolina
Published by the University of South Carolina Press Columbia, South Carolina 29208
www.sc.edu/uscpress
27 26 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data can be found at http://catalog.loc.gov/
ISBN 978-1-61117-866-1 (cloth)
ISBN 978-1-61117-867-8 (ebook)
Front cover illustration: Andrew Jackson , 1836, oil on canvas, Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, South Carolina, gift of an anonymous donor
For my parents, Michael and Kathleen Stephens
He is the greatest man I ever saw.
Ralph E. W. Earl to Ann Earl, September 18, 1821
Contents
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction
| 1 |
The Artist: Becoming the King s Painter
| 2 |
The City: Setting the Stage, Earl in Nashville
| 3 |
The General: Earl s Prepresidential Portraits of Jackson, 1817-1828
| 4 |
The Election: Printmaking and 1828
| 5 |
The President: Jackson in the White House, 1829-1837
Epilogue
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Illustrations
Fig.1 .
Ralph Earl, Elijah Boardman , 1789
Fig.2 .
Ralph Earl, Landscape View of Old Bennington , 1798
Fig.3 .
Portrait of Edward Gere , 1800
Fig.4 .
Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman , 1802
Fig.5 .
Reverend Elihu Ely , ca. 1803
Fig.6 .
Mrs. Grace Rose Ely , ca. 1803
Fig.7 .
Mrs. Williams , ca. 1804
Fig. 8 .
Reverend Ebenezer Porter , 1804
Fig.9 .
Mrs. Ebenezer Porter (Lucy Patty Pierce Merwin) , 1804
Fig. 10 .
Mr. Nathaniel Ruggles , 1804
Fig. 11 .
Mrs. Martha Ruggles , 1804
Fig. 12 .
Family Portrait , 1804 following p. 82
Fig. 13 .
Ralph Earl, Mrs. Noah Smith and her Children , 1798
Fig. 14 .
Ralph Earl, Major General Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus, Baron von Steuben , 1786
Fig. 15 .
Captain Joshua Combs , 1812
Fig. 16 .
Napoleon Bonaparte , 1814 or 1815
Fig. 17 .
Attributed to James E. Wagner, Tennessee State Capitol from Morgan Park , c. 1857-60
Fig. 18 .
George N. Barnard, Nashville from the Capitol , 1864
Fig. 19 .
Invitation to Lafayette s Ball , 1825
Fig. 20 .
Phila Ann Lawrence Donelson , ca. 1830
Fig. 21 .
Ball invitation, Nashville, Tennessee, 1828
Fig. 22 .
Judge John Overton , ca. 1817
Fig. 22a .
Henry Bryan Hall, The Hermitage
Fig. 23 .
Endicott Co., The Hermitage, Jackson s Tomb, and A.J. Donelson s Residence , 1856
Fig. 24 .
Cumberland River , ca. 1820-23
Fig. 25 .
Jean Jean Fran ois de Vall e, Andrew Jackson , 1815
Fig. 26 .
Nathan W. Wheeler, General Jackson , 1815
Fig. 27 .
Andrew Jackson , 1817 following p. 82
Fig. 28 .
Andrew Jackson , 1817
Fig. 29 .
General Andrew Jackson , 1818
Fig. 30 .
Sir Joshua Reynolds, General John Burgoyne , probably 1766
Fig. 31 .
Charles Willson Peale, George Washington at Princeton , 1779
Fig. 32 .
Charles Willson Peale, Andrew Jackson , 1819
Fig. 33 .
James Akin, Caucus Curs in full Yell, or a War Whoop to saddle on the People, a Pappoose President , 1824
Fig. 34 .
Charles Cutler Torrey, engraving after Earl, Andrew Jackson , 1826
Fig. 35 .
James Akin, A Philosophic Cock , 1804
Fig. 36 .
Some Account of the Bloody Deeds of General Jackson , 1828
Fig. 37 .
Unknown artist, The Pedlar and his Pack or the Desperate Effort, an Over Balance , 1828
Fig. 38 .
Henry R. Robinson, General Jackson Slaying the Many Headed Monster , ca. 1836
Fig. 39 .
James Akin, The Man! The Jack Ass! , not dated
Fig. 40 .
James B. Longacre, after Earl, Andrew Jackson , 1828
Fig. 41 .
Mrs. Rachel Jackson , 1817
Fig. 42 .
Unknown artist, possibly Washington Bogart Cooper, after Earl, Mrs. Rachel Jackson (1817), 1830
Fig. 43 .
Mrs. Rachel Jackson , 1825
Fig. 44 .
Mrs. Rachel Jackson , 1827
Fig. 45 .
Mrs. Rachel Jackson , ca. 1831
Fig. 46 .
Emily Tennessee Donelson , 1830
Fig. 47 .
Edward Williams Clay, The Rats Leaving a Falling House , 1831
Fig. 48 .
Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage ( Farmer Jackson ), 1830 following p. 82
Fig. 49 .
John Henry Bufford after Earl, Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage ( Farmer Jackson ), 1832
Fig. 50 .
David Claypoole Johnston, Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures , 1831
Fig. 51 .
The Tennessee Gentleman , 1830 following p. 82
Fig. 52 .
Unknown artist, King Andrew the First , 1832 or 1833
Fig. 53 .
Andrew Jackson, The Jockey Club Portrait, ca. 1830 following p. 82
Fig. 54 .
Andrew Jackson , ca. 1830
Fig. 55 .
Andrew Jackson , 1830
Fig. 56 .
Andrew Jackson , 1833 following p. 82
Fig. 57 .
Andrew Jackson , ca. 1834
Fig. 58 .
Andrew Jackson , ca. 1835 following p. 82
Fig. 59 .
Andrew Jackson astride Sam Patch , ca. 1833 following p. 82
Fig. 60 .
Anthony van Dyck, Charles I of England , ca. 1637
Fig. 61 .
Andrew Jackson , 1836 following p. 82
Fig. 62 .
Andrew Jackson ( The National Picture ), 1836-37 following p. 82
Fig. 63 .
Gilbert Stuart, George Washington ( Lansdowne Portrait ), 1796
Fig. 64 .
James Barton Longacre, after Thomas Sully, Andrew Jackson , 1819-20
Fig. 65 .
Asher B. Durand after John Vanderlyn, General Andrew Jackson, New Orleans, Jany. 8th. 1815 , 1828
Fig. 66 .
Robert W. Weir and John W. Casilear, The Presidents of the United States. From Original and Accurate Portraits, 1834
Acknowledgments
The research for this book has been funded by a number of organizations, and I could not have completed it without this support. This financial assistance allowed me to spend research time at a number of archives. The Graduate School and the School of Art and Art History at the University of Iowa provided major funding. In addition, I received assistance in the form of the Tennessee Historical Society Wills Fellowship, Nicholls State University s Research Council Grant, a visiting scholarship from the American Antiquarian Society, and the University of Alabama s Research Grant Council award. My employment at Nicholls State University and then at the University of Alabama gave me time in the summers to write, and my spouse s employment at Trans States Airlines afforded me financial stability and deeply discounted air travel. I am grateful for all of this assistance.
Two Nashvillians, Marsha Mullin, curator at the Hermitage, and Jim Hoobler, curator at the Tennessee State Museum, in Nashville, have been ardent supporters of this project from the beginning. Both allowed me to pick their brains, shared with me paintings and archival materials, and offered behind-the-scenes tours. They each also generously read and fact-checked the entire manuscript. This project is deeply indebted to their keen eyes, deep knowledge and expertise, and career-long devotion to Jackson and to Tennessee culture, respectively. This project began at the University of Iowa, and I am grateful to Joni Kinsey, who feverishly and tediously read and line-edited the project and offered her expertise and opinion on every thought and word through multiple drafts. The book owes a great deal to her skill, time, and effort. Her guidance helped me become a confident writer. Barbara Mooney at the University of Iowa was a support and ally of this project at every stage. Guidance came from her in a range of forms, including concept and execution. She has also helped me immensely in successfully navigating my academic career. Many friends and colleagues read, discussed, and offered feedback on various aspects of the project, especially including Julia Sienkewicz, Barbaranne Liakos, and Amanda Quackenbush Guidotti. George Thompson, publisher-in-residence at the University of Alabama, was so generous with his time and expert guidance. His help guided me through the publication process. Too many library, archive, and museum professionals have assisted me to name, but these especially include staff from the Library of Congress Manuscript Room, the Catalog of American Portraits, the American Antiquarian Society, the Tennessee State Library and Archives, the Frick Art Reference Library, and the Library of Virginia. My family, especially my siblings, and my parents, Mike and Kathy Stephens, particularly have never wavered in their support of my work. I became an art history graduate student, rather than a law student, because my mom encouraged me to follow my heart, and I am enormously grateful to my parents for their endless generosity, love, and support. Finally, my rock, Jerry Splichal, supports me and my work in every way imaginable and on a daily, even hourly basis, and for him, I am profoundly grateful.
INTRODUCTION
In a telling 1829 letter sent by Ralph E. W. Earl to his dear friend President Andrew Jackson, Earl pledged his loyalty, saying, I will assure you my dear friend my heart is with you, and the only pleasure I have in this life is identified with that of yours. In this correspondence, as in most of the correspondence between the two men, after discussing the issue at hand, Earl launched into political matters and pledged his devotion in closing, saying, No Administration for its time has ever given more general satisfaction than that of yours, and may God grant you with health to go through with this arduous task of reform, is the prayers of yours sincerely. 1 Written shortly after Jackson s move to Washington, these statements appeared in a letter in which Earl apologized for not yet having joined his close companion, a recent widower, at the White House. Jackson desperately wanted Earl to relocate his studio from Nashville, where he had been working for the previous thirteen years, to the capital city during his administration. The correspondence well expresses the sincere devotion Earl, like many Jackson men in the day, felt toward their Old Hero. Over the course of Jackson s political ascendency, he gained many supporters who championed his reform efforts in the United States. Dozens of them worked in tangible ways around the country to support Jackson, and during election periods committees were even mobilized in defense of Jackson s past actions. Closer to home, Jackson s inner circle (which included Earl) defended him staunchly. The significant difference between all of Jackson s other supporters and Earl was that Earl was the only Jackson man who utilized visual culture in shaping and promoting Jackson s image. Others applied the written and spoken word to great effect, but Earl created a visual expression for those words. Earl was arguably the first person in the United States to mobilize artwork in such an extensive way in support of a political candidate, though this practice is commonplace today. Thus the story and the art of Ralph E. W. Earl not only are worth acknowledgment but also create a unique study of the intimate blending of politics and art in American history.
This book describes the shaping of one man s intriguing identity in nineteenth-century America by an artist who is little known today. It questions the role one s visage might have played in crafting a reputation and identity in a time before photography when news traveled slowly, newspapers were openly biased, and reputations died hard. For Andrew Jackson, as this book argues, image was everything, and his decision to bring an image maker into his innermost circle was key in helping mold him into legendary status. Over the last twenty-one years of his life, the artist Ralph E. W. Earl found his own identity intimately bound up with that of Jackson. He systematically and quickly painted his way into Jackson s inner circle and spent most of his last two decades under Jackson s roof, producing scores of portraits of the American hero. Taken together, these images reveal the range of Jackson s roles in a most positive light, and Jackson hoped they would ultimately define his legacy. Thus, Earl depicted Jackson in many guises, as General Jackson, as farmer Jackson, as civilian Jackson, and ultimately as President Jackson. Sold and given as gifts nationally and internationally and reproduced in hundreds of prints, these portraits worked to fashion a complete identity for the nation s seventh president and the heroic general of the War of 1812, who many Americans believed had rescued them from the tyranny of the British once and for all. Earl s portraits of Jackson reveal a respectable, if mythical, identity for the one-time rabble-rouser from the wilderness. Ultimately, Earl became Jackson s intimate friend and portraitist, and his work cemented Jackson s image for posterity. This book posits that it was with the help of Earl s visual message, created in numerous portraits and prints, that Jackson became a larger-than-life hero. Earl s visual fashioning of that image led to much of Jackson s success, even helping lead him to the White House. Without the constant public scrutiny or paparazzi-like attention that today s presidents and presidential candidates face, Jackson was well positioned to help shape his public image. Ultimately the collaboration between Jackson and Earl created a carefully crafted and meaningful visual identity for the nation s seventh president.
Earl appeared at a critical juncture in Jackson s life, just as he was gaining national prestige and long before he became a presidential candidate. When Andrew Jackson met Ralph E. W. Earl, in early 1817, when he sat for the first of many portraits, the two men had no idea that this meeting would alter the course of their lives in significant ways. As a young up-and-coming American artist, Earl had been in Paris copying paintings at the Louvre when he learned of General Jackson s heroics in the Battle of New Orleans, in January 1815. After discussions with his fellow American artists in Paris, including John Vanderlyn and the printmaker Archibald Woodruff, all three men returned to the United States. Just as Charles Willson Peale and John Trumbull had done for George Washington in the wake of the American Revolution, they were eager to capitalize on the potential market for portraits of Jackson. Though Vanderlyn did go on to produce paintings and prints of Jackson, he was never interested in these projects. Similarly, Woodruff moved on to other commercial pursuits. Only Earl devoted his career to Jacksonian portraiture to great success, both financial and ideological. Rather than staying in Nashville only long enough to paint Jackson and the other heroes of New Orleans, as he had planned, Earl stayed permanently. Over more than two decades, Jackson remarkably went on to sit for Earl hundreds of times.
This book also addresses issues of political and visual identity in portraiture during the Jacksonian era. Through combined analysis of dozens of portraits of Andrew Jackson created by Earl, I argue that these were self-conscious constructions painted in consultation with Jackson and his team in order to help shape his nineteenth-century identity. Taking into account the chronology of Jackson s career, I situate these portraits alongside his intended goals and public perceptions. Between 1817 and 1838 (the year of Earl s death), he was a constant presence in Jackson s life, and in addition to painting his portrait on an almost daily basis he became a wholehearted supporter of his politics and a dear friend. The two men s visual goals were bound up with Jackson s political ideals, and Earl s portraits and prints aided in Jackson s accomplishments. For example, in 1824, when Jackson was running for the presidency for the first time, Earl sought to capitalize on General Jackson s heroic status and to remind the public of his victory in the battle of New Orleans by depicting him repeatedly in his iconic military uniform, directing the commanding victory in the War of 1812. When Jackson s public image was tarnished through negative sensationalized media attention and political cartooning in the 1828 election, Earl drew upon past presidential portrait traditions and painted images of him as respectable and ready to take office, and Jackson was elected. Earl also made prints of these paintings for wide distribution to counteract the negative cartoons, and through these prints his images gained national exposure. Ultimately, I believe that Earl s visual message must be considered a central element of Jackson s political career.
At issue in any Jackson project are the tensions between his assumed status of gentility and his actual background as a self-made man, involving issues of class, and his personal and public maturation in a time of profound transition and considerable anxiety in the United States. As the period of the founding fathers gave way to the Age of Jackson, Earl applied to his portraits of Jackson traditional heroic imagery to assuage growing public concern about the transforming state of the nation and Jackson s role in it. For example, by featuring a full-length image of General Jackson on the battlefield, Earl s portraits of a heroic military leader borrow from a long tradition of both American and European Grand Manner portraiture. Furthermore, Earl s images of President Jackson are informed by the young tradition of presidential portraiture established in part by Gilbert Stuart. These artistic precedents applied by Earl to Jackson s portrait may have helped smooth fears about Jackson s complicated background. After Jackson s resounding victory at New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812, the United States was finally free to work out its destiny without European interference. Americans felt optimistic about the future while maintaining a sense of urgency about its direction, believing that if they did not get it right now, they might never have another chance. The New World was finally going to be solidified, and many of its people looked to Jackson for direction. The turbulent age that followed became the only period in American history known by the name of a single man. 2
Earl s role was central to shaping Jackson, Nashville, and, by extension, the art and identity of the mid-South and the nation more generally from the provincial to the genteel. His work both paralleled and contributed to the growing consciousness in the 1830s that American identity in art and politics was maturing beyond the generation of the founding fathers into a next phase, one that tested and challenged old models, even as it still looked to them for guidance. This book presents the verifiable facts of Earl s life and analyzes his portrait style for the first time, relying particularly on his Jackson portraits. In order to reveal Earl s substantial contributions to the development of American art and culture in the nineteenth century, the methodology of this book draws not only on the physical evidence of his paintings but also on their social, political, and historical context. Thus this project is exemplary of a number of critical issues such as the assimilation of European traditions in America, the development of national and presidential imagery, and the power of that imagery for political and social purposes.
In addition, the nature of Earl s story is intriguing, and it reveals much about the wide array of opportunities available for aspiring white men in early America. As an artist, Earl was ideally suited to crafting Andrew Jackson s developing image and contributing to the country s cultural advancement. The son of Ralph Earl (1751-1801), an acquaintance of Joshua Reynolds and Benjamin West in England and a leading portraitist of the Connecticut School in the late eighteenth century, Ralph E. W. Earl had grown up in artistic circles in New England, traveling with his itinerant artist father, and from a young age he was well aware of the power of art to craft identity. The elder Earl was a portraitist who often cited John Singleton Copley, as well as West and Reynolds, as his influences, and from him the younger Earl learned to paint with strong, flat lines and sharp focus. Earl Sr. also depicted many different types of sitters, both urban and rural, American and British, and exposure to this certainly aided the younger Earl s development from a young age. Though Earl Sr. does not seem to have had a lasting impact on Earl s success (because of his death from alcoholism when the younger Earl was about thirteen years old), early on he provided important contacts that would prove extremely useful to his son both in his early career in New England and later in Europe. During Earl s itinerant childhood he was exposed to an enormous variety of social and cultural conditions, all of which he would later draw upon in his mature career. After Earl Sr. s death, the young artist produced portraits in the Northeast with a base at Troy, New York, until 1809, when he continued the tradition among aspiring American artists of studying abroad, spending a year in London, four years in Norwich, England, and a final year in Paris. Returning to the United States in late 1815, he worked itinerantly for a year, beginning in Savannah before making his way to Nashville in early 1817. In addition to many other endeavors, such as opening a museum in Nashville along the lines of Charles Willson Peale s in Philadelphia, Earl met and painted the South s leading citizens in his first years there, including most especially Andrew Jackson. In Nashville and then in Washington after 1829, Earl also established a printmaking enterprise by spearheading engraving and lithographic projects based on his original portraits of Jackson. Study of these projects and the rich records and correspondence associated with them sheds light on early printing practices in America while revealing much about the intentions of Jackson and Earl. While working at the Hermitage, Earl also met Jackson s niece, Jane Caffery, whom he married in May 1818. Unfortunately, she died in childbirth only a year into their marriage, and for the rest of his life Earl devoted himself to representing Jackson, which is where his greatest legacy lies. Earl then endeavored to cast Andrew Jackson as a heroic gentleman fit for the presidency. In dozens of original portraits of Old Hickory, Earl established a visual identity for the national hero.
In many ways, Earl forged a creative path unique in early American culture. Yet much of what he did falls in line with what a handful of other cultural entrepreneurs were also doing in the opening decades of the nineteenth century, which speaks to a significant aspect of nineteenth-century American cultural identity. Typical of his role as a hard-working, goal-oriented businessman, Earl was willing to manipulate his artistic output to make it work for him, depending on where and for whom he was working. His early career in New England followed the style and patterns of the itinerant artists who were working there at the time and continued the precedent established in the region by his father. His travel to London also was in line with the career paths of most ambitious American artists, although he somewhat uniquely supported his trip with his own portrait income and traveled without a patron or financial support from his family. His mature work in Tennessee drew equally from his years as a limner in New England and from his knowledge gained abroad of how to produce portraits that suited his clientele, ranging from the rural elite to General Jackson himself. As a case study in and of itself, Earl s career trajectory reveals a great deal about early art and culture in America, especially in the understudied region of the mid-South. The levels of success Earl found as the president s artist, however, was unprecedented.
In addition to his remarkable work with Andrew Jackson, Earl s other portraits won him a place in the context of the history of art and culture in Tennessee that should not be overlooked. As the region s first resident artist, he had a major influence on the development of an artistic environment there, and the style of portraiture that he applied continued to dominate the art of the region throughout the nineteenth century. It was not until after the Civil War that Tennessee had any widely established fine-arts presence, and Earl set the standard for this. Earl is also remarkable for the early impact he made on the culture of the mid-South. In addition to his portrait work, Earl seems to have played a role in nearly every early cultural endeavor in middle Tennessee, including vast archaeological study and the initiation of his museum.
Earl s story reveals much about Jacksonian-era art history, an understudied topic, touching on such issues as the development of art in the South, portraiture as propaganda, and the impact of printmaking on nineteenth-century thought, revealing the critical nature of this text. It is important to see Earl in the milieu of early nineteenth-century artisan-entrepreneurs in New England, where he was working. Although this topic has been extensively addressed by the historian David Jaffee and others, Earl s place in this context has received no attention, and his early portraits are discussed here for the first time. 3 Though his work certainly was in line with the art of his time and place and reflects his limited access to scholarly training, these paintings also establish important precedents that Earl would carry through into his work with Jackson. Earl s time spent abroad is also a previously unrecognized period in his development. It was Earl s work as a folk portraitist in New England, coupled with all of his exposure abroad, that was critical to his success in his later work with Jackson s image.
Following on that, to understand Earl s time in Nashville, including his impact on the burgeoning community and his complete absorption into Nashville society, it is critical to place his work with Jackson in context. Although he never intended to stay there for his career, he found a successful niche in Nashville, was welcomed into the lives of the most important political players, and ultimately helped the city advance to the point that it was one that a president was proud to call home. Scholarship on Tennessee art history and on early nineteenth-century Nashville culture is limited, but it is worth noting that the city and its citizens, especially Earl, served as a boon to Jackson s success.
For about the first ten years of his artist-sitter relationship with Jackson, Earl depicted him with one persona, that of military hero. Earl s early works include the two monumental historical portraits Earl painted between 1818 and 1820. The nature of the relationship between Earl and Jackson was particularly significant to his artistic output. Throughout my discussions of Earl s Jackson portraits, I analyze the works in the context of what they depict and why.
There was also widespread use of political cartooning and caricature in opposition to Jackson during the 1828 presidential election, and it is worth examining Earl s artistic response to this. In preparation for the campaign, Earl had begun diversifying his image of Jackson by painting him in civilian attire, not only in his military uniform. Leading up to the election, Earl commissioned the nationally regarded printmaker James B. Longacre to make an engraving from his new portrait of Jackson. This project offers solid evidence that he was genuinely interested in shaping Jackson s image through his Jackson portraits. Along with Jackson s engraving, Earl also commissioned Longacre to create a print of one of his images of Rachel Jackson. The details of this and other images of her are discussed in depth here for the first time. The images of Jackson, especially her print, combined with the civilian print of Old Hickory, speak to Earl s desire to help shape their combined national identity in response to all of the criticism they faced during the election.
Earl s images of Jackson after his election to the presidency demonstrate a changed approach to the subject, which carries over in Earl s print project for Jackson s 1832 re-election bid. Once Jackson was in office, Earl felt much freer to shape and mold his image in a number of new ways, and this was especially true during his second term. The range of portraits of Jackson that Earl produced during Jackson s presidency includes a surprising equestrian portrait and the final monumental one aimed at setting his image for posterity.
Earl himself was a significant historical player in his own right, and I reveal heretofore unrecognized connections and friendships between him and the most well-known artists of his era. His cultured status and society connections, combined with the public s awareness of his intimacy with the president, helped further Jackson s goal of improving his national reputation, especially in Washington and points north. Earl s work offers a new channel of inquiry in terms of the Jackson presidency, and examining it adds to our scant knowledge about an important American artist and his formative role in history, in addition to bolstering the limited scholarship on art produced in the South as well as Jacksonian-era portraiture.
Early nineteenth-century art in the South is a field that is ripe for the type of consideration offered by this book. The American journalist W. J. Cash opened his seminal 1941 study, The Mind of the South , by stating that there exists among us a profound conviction that the South is another land, sharply differentiated from the rest of the American nation, and exhibiting within itself a remarkable homogeneity. 4 Still today, more than two generations later, many consider the South another land. In the study of art, this differentiation has resulted in a limited awareness of art produced in the American South, especially before the twentieth century. While the South certainly is a distinct region, the nature of the United States and its artistic and cultural heritage cannot be fully understood without a more complete view of the entire nation s cultural history, especially during the antebellum era. Uncovering forgotten artists, Earl in this case, will help shed much-needed light on the region s history as a whole. As Earl s story reveals, these forgotten Southern artists actually participated regularly in projects with national implications. Mining this information helps expand what has been a limited view.
The late curator Ella-Prince Knox bemoaned this idea in her catalog of Southern painting, saying that, for all the familiarity with the literature, architecture, and general culture of the South, there has been a haunting lack of attention to its art. 5 More recently, the art historian Maurie McInnis has more pointedly acknowledged and accounted for these omissions, observing that broad characterizations of art in the American South are problematic because our knowledge of its history is still too incomplete in most cases to allow for comprehensive analysis. 6 Many pieces critical to the whole remain unresearched, underdiscussed, or undiscovered. In other cases, an absence of archival records impedes research. As a result, the true nature of American art more generally cannot be understood until its broader development outside the urban centers of the Northeast, in Nashville for example, receives greater attention. 7
A study of Earl s career spent painting Jackson also reveals innumerable ways that he influenced the history of American art and culture. Perhaps long forgotten because his career matured in Nashville, Earl enjoyed a success there that hinged on the time he spent growing up in New England and studying abroad, and his most significant works were created in Washington, D.C., in the Jackson White House. Therefore, a consideration of Earl should not be limited to a characterization of him as a Southern artist but should also seek to reveal Earl as a significant component of Jacksonian America more generally. Earl s career is unlike any other in the nineteenth century and has perhaps been forgotten largely because it does not fit any particular mold or category. Though he worked in the South, like many artists there he was not a Southerner. He was also the rare resident artist in the South at a time when itinerancy was the norm. Earl studied in England and France and spent twenty years as Andrew Jackson s artist, but he is still considered a na ve artist by some. 8 His career also involved innumerable academic endeavors, such as the founding, in 1818, of the Nashville Museum. It is this multifaceted identity that has made Earl problematic for scholars. But a study of his work also reveals a self-made man who actively sought and achieved his goals, thus placing Earl at the center of the American experience.
Attribution of Earl s works has also been problematic, and as a result untold numbers of his early paintings are lost or unidentified. Earl did not sign or, it seems, keep records for the vast majority of his portraits, especially after his career and financial position with Jackson were firmly established. Although he was active as a painter for more than four years in Troy, New York, between 1805 and 1809, no works from this period have been identified. Similarly, only three of the dozens of paintings he created while abroad between 1810 and 1814 are known, and none of the portraits he created as an itinerant artist in the South in 1815 and 1816 have surfaced. The Jackson works are also mostly unsigned, but their provenances tend to be better recorded because of the subject s significance. Thus large sections of Earl s development as an artist cannot be studied because we lack the visual evidence.
Many have also found it difficult to categorize Earl and his style. Earl s frequent altering of his style to suit sitter and place further complicates things. Earl s paintings have been considered everything from Americana and folk art to political icons, historical artifacts, and works of fine art, and their reception seems to have changed over time. Prized in Earl s day for their truth to nature, they have since been exhibited as primitive and na ve works and often forgotten altogether. 9 Despite Earl s success as a limner at the least, his paintings have frequently been denigrated by contemporary scholars. Art historians have tended to consider his work on the basis of its artistic merits alone. Earl has often been dismissed for lacking in artistic ability (for example, in comparison with contemporaries like John Vanderlyn), and his works have been disparaged as a result. The historian James C. Kelly characterized Earl s work by saying that He painted numerous portraits of Jackson, some of distinction but many repetitious in nature and mediocre in quality, which were political icons more than works of art. 10 Kelly also noted that Some [Tennessee] artists lacked the ability to penetrate personality even when the subject was well known to him, as Jackson was to Earl. 11 Jackson s contemporaries would have certainly disagreed with this statement, and in his day Earl s Jackson portraits were praised for being true to nature. Susan Symonds admitted this in her 1968 master s thesis, saying, Earl s images of Jackson were highly regarded, on the whole, by Jackson s admirers. However, she went on to say that they served as utilitarian art, their function being more important than the artistic rendering. Symonds also went on to criticize Earl s style, saying his palette could be garish; the colors are vivid and used locally, with little modeling . The paintings are stiff and flat. 12 Perhaps in part because of the twentieth-century criticism Earl s works have received, scholars have failed to properly recognize their cultural, historical, and artistic significance. In addition, because he often painted several similar versions of the same portrait, his work is frequently considered monotonous. This criticism is voiced despite the fact that more well-known artists such as Gilbert Stuart used exactly the same tactics as Earl, taking an original portrait from life and creating many copies of it in order to meet demand. In many cases, Earl s portraits are also unsigned and undated, making it very difficult to tell which portrait in a group of similar works was the original, and this is troubling for some. Attribution is also sometimes uncertain for Earl s mostly unsigned and regularly overpainted works.
From what remains, though, it is obvious that Earl s life and career offer a significant case study in the development of art, politics, and social change during the Jacksonian era and that he contributed greatly to the developing history and progress of American art. His career also spans some of the most critical periods in American history. He was raised in colonial New England and witnessed the maturation of the country in the Jacksonian era, with close ties not only to the South but to the nation via Jackson. Thus, a study of his works, which date from 1800 to 1838, offers a fascinating glimpse into some significant aspects of artistic development in antebellum America. Although the two men had opposite personalities, Earl grew to revere Jackson and Jackson respected Earl, and their close daily interaction enriched the careers of both men. Earl s career took place at a time when it was extremely difficult for an artist in America to make a living producing artworks of any genre. While American artists who are more well respected today were producing portraits of Jackson in the midst of their own financial despair (John Vanderlyn being the best example), Earl made a comfortable living from portrait painting in Nashville (and subsequently Washington), and he stayed very busy. 13
Because of Earl s unique position first as a colonial New England painter and later as Southern portraitist of the Jackson era, there is also great disparity in what has been written about him, and no one has ever taken the entire scope of his oeuvre into account when considering his work. The variety of his painting styles should be attributed to his ability to manipulate his style according to the region and the patron, and scholars have repeatedly failed to realize this and have instead either dismissed or ignored his work.
Julie Aronson accounts for the dismissive treatment of Earl s work in the 1992 exhibition catalog American Na ve Paintings . Of the Jackson portraits, she says today these portraits are valued for their historical merits, but are criticized for their repetitiousness and their absence of psychological insight. They lack the tender human quality and unsophisticated decorative appearance that give his early portraits so much appeal to twentieth-century viewers. 14 Like most scholars who have approached Earl s works, Aronson prefers Earl s na ve style, which he applied in New England prior to his study in Europe. At issue for many scholars who have addressed Earl s work is the conflict Earl faced between applied style and sheer demand, especially in the Jackson years. As this book discusses, Earl was extremely prolific, and it seems that he was often willing to produce less than his best work in order to keep up with the high demand for portraits of Jackson. One interesting surviving anecdote describes the circumstances of an unknown Earl portrait: To answer the public cry for a glimpse of Jackson, [Major William B.] Lewis ordered his portrait painted. R. E. W. Earl very likely did the job. This huge and awkward rival to Stuart s Washington seems to have taken no longer to paint than from sunup to sundown. It was hung over the marble mantel on the west wall of the entrance hall. The hero was shown in military blue, draped in more braid and golden stars than the East Room itself. He was all symbol, and it was the symbol even most of Jackson s intimates really knew best, not the man. 15 Although this portrait does not seem to be extant, this story reveals Earl s willingness to create portraits as the situation dictated, and this helps account for the wide range of style and quality in his extant works. It also helps reveal, as this in-depth study of Jackson portraits does, that Earl was not always trying to penetrate Jackson s inner soul in his paintings but rather sought to fashion the symbol of Jackson for the country. While his quick work helped him maintain a high standard of living in his own time, it seemingly sacrificed his reputation for posterity.
While the place of Earl s portraits in historical documentation is certainly warranted and should not be ignored, their value as works of art is equally critical, and a broader understanding of Earl s iconography will strengthen the scope of American art in the critical Jacksonian era. Earl learned from those traditions that preceded him, both European and American, and carved a special niche for himself and his Jackson portraits in a transitional period in American history, manipulating his style and career path as needed. Despite the criticisms his work has faced, according to the noted Nashville historian Mary French Caldwell, He, last of all, would have sought the approbation of art critics. Continuing, Caldwell suggests that simple justice to his skill demands that he be given better rank among the early American artists and wider recognition of his brilliant, useful career than is usually accorded him. 16 By telling the extraordinary story of Earl s life and placing his work among the most important events of the Jacksonian era, I hope to reveal the significance of this early American artisan-entrepreneur.
Indeed, Earl often gets more credit in museum catalog entries than in academic scholarship. One of the few glowing reports of Earl s contributions to American art history was written by Abigail Linville, collections manager of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, who acknowledges the full scope of Earl s endeavors: The scope of Earl s contribution to the state of Tennessee and art in the South is immeasurable. He not only worked as an artist, but as a collector, historian, and an entrepreneur. Owing much of his success to his endearing friendship with President Jackson, he was given the opportunity to pursue his interests without hesitation. His relationship with Jackson surpassed that of patron and painter and affords us a glimpse at the wonderful virtues of this talented man. Earl can be appreciated for his unembellished artistic interpretation during a time when it was essential for American artists to understand and appreciate the artistic styles of England and Europe yet separate themselves stylistically. 17 As will be shown, Earl drew from American, English, and French traditions in crafting a public image for his Jacksonian portraiture. Furthermore, a 2004 catalog from the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art states that Earl s paintings well represented the status of Andrew Jackson as a national. 18 Additionally, a newspaper article from 1950 acknowledges that Earl s faithful and not unskilled portrayal of the features of the great and near-great of the Jackson period give his work a unique and important place in American history. 19 Unfortunately, these optimistic summaries of Earl s career are the exception, and his work has most often been omitted from the scholarship entirely. When he has been mentioned, errors in fact inevitably infiltrate the information. So many published errors exist about the specifics of Earl s life and work that, at a basic level, this book strives to make widely available the facts regarding Earl s biography, documented through thorough archival research. It differentiates between evidence and conjecture and sets the record straight. 20
Next to George Washington, Andrew Jackson was the most painted man in American history, and his face is still easily recognized. Although the range of Jacksonian imagery (in the form of portraits, miniatures, statuary, and prints) is vast, this art, like that of Earl s broader oeuvre, is also remarkably understudied. According to the curator James Barber, who has written most extensively on Earl, Jackson was the premier icon of his age. 21 So why has more not been written about his visage? With the exception of Barber s short exhibition catalog Old Hickory: A Life Sketch of Andrew Jackson and its accompanying text, Andrew Jackson: A Portrait Study , no books have been published about the history of Jacksonian portraiture and particularly Earl s role in its development. Not only does Earl deserve attention as an early nineteenth-century cultural entrepreneur, but a study of his career will help fill a void in American art scholarship about antebellum portraiture. A notable absence of scholarship on antebellum portraiture exists generally, as scholars who have studied the period have tended to focus on the development of landscape and genre painting in the United States. However, the lack of Jacksonian studies seems like a glaring hole in the scholarship. While studies of both colonial portraiture and that of the late nineteenth century abound, antebellum American portraiture has received only scant scholarly attention. This has occurred despite the enormous popularity of portraiture in the period and its growing importance based on the emerging commercial order in the United States at that time. America s first art critic, John Neal, wrote about the prevalence of portraiture in 1829, stating that you can hardly open the door of a best room anywhere, without surprising or being surprised by the picture of somebody plastered to the wall and staring at you with both eyes and a bunch of flowers. 22 The study of Earl s portraiture and its forgotten role in the developing American culture therefore will contribute greatly to the understanding of antebellum American art and history.
Despite the absence of records for much of Earl s time before his meeting Jackson, his activities from 1817 on are actually fairly well documented. This is probably because of his place within the Jackson circle, but a remarkable number of letters exist, especially for an artist who worked in the South, where most portraitists were itinerant and documentation if it still exists is usually scant. The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, for example, contains a collection of Earl papers, including three folders of memorandum books, receipts, and correspondence. Multiple collections of Jackson papers also help document the daily life of Colonel Earle, as Jackson called him, and he regularly appears in everyday Jackson letters. In addition, the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, Tennessee, which specializes in the Jackson period, contains many archival records regarding Earl s creation of the Nashville Museum in addition to a great deal of Jackson correspondence, a small collection of Earl s letters, and most of the local newspapers from the period in which Earl regularly appears. The Hermitage collection also has some of his personal belongings and several letters. Finally, and most substantially, the Library of Congress has a larger Earl archive consisting of seventeen folders that contain mostly letters written to Earl. These are located within the Jackson historian and editor John Spencer Bassett s collective papers and have informed this book substantially. Earl s visual legacy is also extensive. Well over one hundred of Earl s paintings are known, many still located in private collections. Of these, at least fifty picture Jackson. There are also potentially hundreds of extant Earl prints commissioned after his portraits from James B. Longacre, William S. Pendleton, and other prominent American printmakers.
Secondary literature about Earl is not nearly as plentiful as the primary sources. While scores of books regarding Jackson s life, political involvements, and military prowess exist, no scholarly sources address Earl s career and its significance. A few scant articles and chapters have been published over the years. The first Earl article appeared in a short-lived Nashville publication, the Taylor Trotwood Magazine , in 1908 and offered a brief but factually correct study titled Ralph Earl, Painter to Andrew Jackson by Emma Look Scott. 23 A 1972 exhibition organized by students at the University of Connecticut and titled The American Earls was dedicated to the three primary artist members of the Earl family, Ralph Earl Sr., James Earl, his brother, and the younger Ralph E. W. Earl; however, the presentation on the youngest Earl s work is far from comprehensive. Symonds s unpublished 1968 master s thesis for the University of Delaware was dedicated to portraits of Andrew Jackson and includes one chapter about Earl s Jackson paintings. James Barber, who has done the most extensive archival research on Earl, devotes one chapter to Earl s work with Jackson in his volume Andrew Jackson: A Portrait Study . Georgia Bumgardner (now Barnhill) wrote the most scholarly Earl article regarding two of the print series that Earl commissioned. Finally, an overview of Earl s life by Jerome MacBeth appeared in Antiques magazine in 1971. Beyond these brief and dated studies, scholarly attention to Earl s work is absent. Several books and articles about the art of his father provide insight into Earl s background, however, most notably Elizabeth Kornhauser s 1991 publication, Ralph Earl: The Face of the Young Republic , which briefly addresses Earl Jr. and illustrates three of his works. Greater interest has also been shown in Jackson s home, the Hermitage, where Earl lived for many years, and several books have been published about it, among them Charles Phillips s The Hermitage: Home of Andrew Jackson . This volume therefore offers the first in-depth look at this too long ignored important American cultural innovator, specifically revealing his works significance in the Age of Jackson.
Although a serious study of Earl s work during this time has yet to be written until now, many critical issues involving the developing state of American art and culture, party politics, and class issues lie at the heart of this project. Drawing on his artistic lineage and his European training, Earl assisted Jackson in using portraiture as political propaganda in the service of identity formation. For the 1828 election the right to vote had been expanded to include most white men, and Jackson s victory marked the largest electorate yet, making Jackson more truly a democratic president. He displayed his commitment to the people by becoming the first president to invite the public to his inaugural celebration. Orphaned during the American Revolution as a teenager in the western Carolinas, Jackson trained to be a lawyer and moved to Nashville in 1788. His 1791 marriage to Rachel Donelson connected him to one of Nashville s oldest families, yet his roots were humble. Jackson s conflicting identity as a rising star on the western frontier and also as a roughneck country gambler with a violent temper would become something Jackson would publicly grapple with for the rest of his life. Jackson became the first Tennessean on the national stage and the state s first senator. The image Jackson projected and his actual background were fraught with tension, and he employed Earl to remind the public of his heroics and respectability. Earl would work on this project for most of his mature career.
Despite the artist s status as an intimate of the Jackson family, however, little was recorded about Earl s family history and personal affairs, and even the exact date of his birth is unknown. According to Scott, one of the first to publish on Earl, He was a modest man and little given to speaking of his affairs or personal relations. A nature of less reserve would have made much of his unique position in the Jackson family; or would have left memoirs to succeeding generations. 24 Perhaps because of his untimely death just months after Jackson left office, Earl left no journal or memoir. In addition, his only painting records are for 1817 and 1818, after which he devoted himself primarily to painting Jackson.
Thanks to his many personal and professional contacts, his friendly demeanor, and his artistic ability, Earl succeeded in gaining a national reputation. In fact, with his status as Jackson s visual promoter and right-hand man, in addition to his extensive connections and friendships within the American contemporary art and political scene, Earl became a celebrity in his own right. In a contemporaneous letter, one of his friends described him as the very soul of goodness and honor, and he seems to have been highly regarded by all who knew him. 25 His goodness and honor as well as his modesty and jovial personality helped him succeed in becoming extremely well connected in the most important political and artistic circles and thus perfectly positioned to help craft Jackson s visual identity. Earl s social ease and European-styled gentility combined with his artistic training and awareness of past art helped him reform Jackson s personal image from that of a rough Southern general to a nationally prominent statesman. And, as I argue, Earl s work was a major factor in making Jackson publicly acceptable enough to win the presidential race of 1828.
After Jackson s election, Earl became a member of the inner circle of the White House, where he was privy to constant interaction with Jackson as well as to insider information. The American artist and naturalist John James Audubon visited Washington and recorded the events of his trip in his journals. He had traveled there with several letters for Jackson from his hometown of New Orleans, and he wrote about his visit to the Jackson White House, saying that he was shown to the president s office to present my letters. There we found Colonel Donelson [Jackson s nephew and secretary] and Mr. Earle [sic], and in a moment I was in the presence of this famed man, and had shaken his hand. Jackson received his letters, and Audubon went to see Colonel Earle, who is engaged in painting General Jackson s portrait. 26 During his visit, Audubon was invited to join the president s family for dinner, and he noted that he sat with Andrew Donelson, Earl, and the president. Importantly, Audubon also mentioned a portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart that hung in Earl s studio. Audubon stated that the painting was found during the war with England by Mrs. Madison, who had cut it out of the frame, rolled up, and removed to the country, as Mr. Earle told me. 27 This painting was a copy of Stuart s Lansdowne Portrait, purchased for the White House in 1800. The portrait still hangs there today, in the East Room. The appearance of this particular portrait of the country s first president by the first presidential portraitist in Earl s quarters is quite significant in showing Earl s awareness of his predecessors and his desire to place Jackson in a similar context. Earl would make his own version of the work in an 1837 Jackson portrait.
Earl s fame and success in the national capital and the hole his absence left in Nashville are evident in an announcement from an April 1837 Nashville newspaper, which lauded his return home to Nashville at the end of Jackson s presidency, saying, The accomplished artist, Col. R.E.W. Earl, after a sojourn of eight years at Washington, in the family of his venerated relative Ex-President Jackson, has returned to Nashville; to the bosom of a society in which he is as much beloved for his private worth and personal virtues, as he is esteemed for his skill as an artist, occupying the front rank of his profession. For the future, we understand, he will reside principally at the Hermitage; visiting this city and his friends occasionally, as leisure from his professional engagements permits. 28 Earl had traveled back to Nashville with Jackson at the conclusion of Jackson s presidency with the plan of expanding his Jackson imagery enterprise. Although Earl s life ended shortly thereafter, his portraits had a significant impact not only on his immediate circle in Nashville and Washington but also, and especially, on Jackson s success and ultimate legacy.
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THE ARTIST
Becoming the King s Painter
Awareness of Ralph Eleazer Whiteside Earl s (1788-1838) early career both in New England and in Europe is fundamental to understanding the mark he made in the Jacksonian era. He had actually gained measured success as an artist long before his arrival in Tennessee. His first documented portrait dates to 1800. The period in Earl s life from then until his first sitting with Jackson in 1817 is a critical prologue to understanding his mature work. During that period, as a young artist he simultaneously worked and studied, in New England and in Europe, producing scores of paintings and supporting himself and his trip abroad through portraiture. His years in New England and in Europe provide critical insights into the life of an early American portraitist struggling to find his path and gaining incremental successes as he matured. His progression and experiences along the way reveal the roots of his Jacksonian-era work.
The first two phases of his career initially involved his early training and subsequent portrait production in New England, especially under his father s tutelage, and then his five years abroad, which served him immeasurably after his return and have never received scholarly attention. Although his career took unexpected shifts after his arrival in Nashville, Earl s early training followed a predictable trajectory for any early American who aspired to be a fine artist. After tutelage by an established painter (his father in this case), Earl studied abroad, building collegial relationships with other artists, and he made great strides in the consumer market. Earl s development in these early years offers an example of the nature of artistic practice in early America. It was also critical in preparing him for his role as Jackson s portraitist and image-maker. Working for Jackson later, he would regularly draw upon methods, experiences, and contacts he had gained during this time. Borrowing from regional and period-specific artistic trends, advertising his services in local newspapers, and maintaining a willingness to travel were all part of Earl s efforts to establish himself in his earliest years as a fatherless adolescent painter and were practices he continued to use throughout his career.
As a child, Earl initially gained a great deal of knowledge and experience while studying under his father s wing. Earl was working in New England between 1798 and 1809, years during which the region experienced what has been called a Village Enlightenment. The historian David Jaffee has written about the emergence of commercial enterprise, which brought about a new class of rural New England patrons eager to sit for their portraits, just as Earl was coming of age. Earl s first paintings were part of this consumer revolution that helped transform American culture, creating an expanded upper middle class to whom Earl s work appealed. 1 Among the many skills learned from his father, the younger Earl observed Ralph Earl Sr. s attention to costume and meaningful detail, and this informed the younger Earl s paintings throughout his entire career. From his early rural New England sitters, Earl Jr. also recognized the need to offer patrons the style and subject matter they desired, as well as a reasonably good likeness. Traveling with his father as a child, he also experienced the practical model of an itinerant artist in the rural United States, and this contributed to his later success as a traveling artist in Georgia and Tennessee. In addition to the New England years, Earl s five years abroad were essential to his development. His studies with leading artists, his exposure to European fine arts, and his introduction to cultured gentlemen and their customs all informed his time with Jackson, as did the exposure to classical learning that he gained while in Europe.
New England
For vast stretches of his career, Earl was a successful portrait limner. When necessary, and it often was, he could produce a finished portrait quite quickly, and he did this regularly throughout his career. Using standard studio props and a formulaic approach allowed him to produce enough portraits to support himself for years and even fund his trip abroad. Earl was one of several itinerant limners working in rural New England in the early nineteenth century. These traveling artisans offered varying degrees of finish and quality, and, despite his youth and lack of academic training, Earl s work was comparatively well finished. He quickly became one of the region s best painters, making a name for himself in the North that lasted throughout his career. His time in New England parallels that of many other artists in the region. For example, much of David Jaffee s recent scholarship on Ammi Phillips, a contemporary of Earl s, suggests that Phillips s experiences were similar to Earl s. Jaffee notes that Phillips took to the road as an itinerant vendor of sought-after cultural commodities, like the many other young men coming of age after the War for Independence. 2 The paintings Earl produced itinerantly, especially his earliest works from New England, may be considered folk or na ve and admittedly reveal his limited academic training, but they are in keeping with the popular modes of portraiture in the area at the time.
Ralph Earl Sr .
Ralph Earl Sr. s own development as an artist was typical of the formative period of artistic practice in the late colonial era in America, during which opportunities for artists were few, and the elder artist s background was fundamental to his son s preparation. Earl s ancestors were Quakers from Exeter, England, who immigrated to Rhode Island around 1634, eventually settling in Worcester County, Massachusetts. Ralph Earl Sr. was born on May 11, 1751, to Ralph Earl and Phebe Whittemore Earl. 3 The Earls ran a large and successful farm, and, as the family s eldest son, Ralph Earl was entitled to the land and the continuation of the family business after his father s death. Despite this, however, and much to his family s chagrin, Earl did not take up farming, deciding instead to initiate a painting career. He began traveling around New England, learning what he could and gaining some early patronage. 4 He married a local woman, Sarah Gates, and had two children, though he basically abandoned them in pursuit of his painting career as he traveled around New England gaining experience and training as an artist. According to Gates family records, Earl was a Tory, and skedaddled, leaving her behind. 5 He befriended the Boston artist Henry Pelham and probably gained access to the works of his more famous half-brother, John Singleton Copley, through this association. He also became known for producing the sketches for four prints of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, which were engraved by his associate Amos Doolittle. 6 These engravings (1775, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford) bear the distinction of becoming the first history pictures created by an American artist. Although the prints were created long before the birth of his son, these works set a precedent in the Earl family for collaborating with printmakers, which Earl Jr. would go on to do to a great extent. Much later, the younger Earl s portrait prints of Andrew Jackson would decorate American homes and illustrate the importance of prints in early American culture, as the Earl/Doolittle engravings had done in the wake of the Revolutionary War.
At a time when most American artists had great difficulty pursuing their profession, Ralph Earl Sr. found modest success, both in colonial New England and, after a remarkable escape during the Revolution, in Great Britain. In 1777, when he was in danger of being imprisoned as a Loyalist (he had long since refused his father s requests to join the Revolutionary Army), he fortuitously met Captain John Money (1752-1817), a quartermaster general of John Burgoyne s British army at Saratoga. Earl proclaimed his allegiance to Great Britain and set sail for London dressed as Money s servant. Upon arriving in London and in dire financial straits, Earl followed Money to his hometown of Norwich, England, where Money became his patron and assisted him in acquiring commissions. Earl Sr. remained in Norwich from 1778 to 1782, after which he moved to London, where he stayed until 1785. In London he became well acquainted with Benjamin West and was exposed to Grand Manner portraiture and history paintings as an assistant for a time in Sir Joshua Reynolds s studio. He probably passed stories about his time with Reynolds on to his son, because Earl became an admirer of the great English portraitist s work. Earl Sr. was greatly influenced by the elaborate landscape settings used in portraits in the style of Thomas Gainsborough, which were then popular in England, as well as George Romney s intricate room interiors. Back in the United States later, he incorporated these particular elements into his New York and Connecticut portraits.
Sometime after settling in Norwich with Money s help, Earl Sr. met his second wife, Ann Whiteside, daughter of Eleazer Whiteside, who gave Earl Jr. his middle name, and the mother of Earl Jr.. There is no record of their marriage; however, it probably took place in 1784 or 1785. 7 There is also no record of Earl Sr. s divorce from his first wife; he had just skedaddled, and his marriage to Ann was therefore probably bigamous. Eleazer Whiteside was a friend and neighbor of John Money, Earl s main patron in England, who would later go on to befriend Earl Jr. in Norwich as well.
At the close of the Revolutionary War, the senior Earl, with his new wife, returned safely to the United States in the last week of April 1785. The Earls stayed in New York City for a time, and, according to his most recent biographer, Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser, Earl responded to the tastes and values of his patrons . For his New York clients [who were necessarily more sophisticated than their rural New England counterparts] Earl drew on his English experience. 8 Unfortunately, Earl s past caught up with him in New York, and he was sent to debtor s prison from September 1786 to January 1788. During this time, Ann Earl fended for herself, and she probably worked as a shopkeeper. She may have already been pregnant when Earl was sent to prison, or conjugal visits may have been allowed during Earl s time in prison. Their daughter, Mary Ann Earl, was born on August 5, 1787. Mary Ann, who lived a long life despite being disabled by disease much of her life, later married Colonel Benjamin Higbie and settled permanently with her mother in Troy, New York. Mary Ann bore two daughters, whom she raised with her mother after Higbie died in April 1818, when his daughter Mary was five and the younger, Ruth, was only a year old. 9 In the ensuing decades Earl Jr. would correspond frequently with his nieces, and he visited them at least once, in November 1832. 10 Earl s sister (his only sibling), Mary Ann, wrote to him at the Hermitage in January 1828 to inform him of their mother s death. 11 For his part, Earl Sr. eventually made enough money painting portraits in jail that he was able to help cover his debts and win his release.
Earl s time in prison probably compounded the effects of his alcoholism. According to Kornhauser, his drinking not only hindered the advancement of his career but did little to enhance a reputation already tarnished by his disloyalty to his country, by his bigamy, and by his indebtedness. Alcohol eventually caused his death. 12 After his release from prison, Earl wisely left New York, where in addition to the aftereffects of his missteps he faced great competition from portraitists such as John Trumbull and Gilbert Stuart. With the help of a court-appointed guardian, Mason Fitch Cogswell, a doctor from Hartford, Connecticut, he began to work in the region of the Connecticut River Valley. 13 Although a career in rural New England would not provide the national recognition that one in New York City might, patronage was much more readily available for Earl there. There was very little competition in the area, and Earl was the first artist to visit many of the towns to which he traveled. Earl s influence in the area was consequently great, and he went on to inspire a host of followers who are today regarded as the Connecticut School.
Although no definitive record of his birth has been found, Ralph Eleazer Whiteside Earl was born in either New York or New England after his father s release from prison in late 1788. The date of Earl Jr. s birth has long been unclear; he is usually mistakenly said to have been born in 1785 in England. Several key pieces of information have been found that contradict this, however. First, a notice of the elder Earl s arrival at port back in the United States in 1785 lists Earl and lady, with no mention of a child. 14 In addition, Earl always claimed an American identity and was quite patriotic in doing so. A letter of introduction dating from shortly after the younger Earl arrived back in the United States after his own European training states, Mr. Earle has spent 6 or 7 years in Europe which time has been devoted to his profession. He is an American by birth and the son of a portrait painter of N. York of considerable celebrity. 15 In addition, Earl Jr. obtained a passport upon leaving France to return to the United States, and, although no birth date is listed on it, it does claim Earl as a natif de Boston, deneusant New York, Citoyen des Etats-Unis, and he lists himself as being twenty-seven years old. 16 The passport is dated 1815, making the year of his birth about 1788. His birthdate was probably late in the year, since his sister was born in August 1787 and Earl Sr. was released from prison in January 1788. In addition, there is no evidence to substantiate the traditional 1785 dating of Earl s birth found in most Earl scholarship. Regardless of his precise birth date, Ralph E. W. Earl s young life was anything but typical. His parents had no house of their own, and they frequently boarded at taverns or even with portrait sitters for weeks at a time while the elder Earl, who was known to be a deliberate worker, completed their portraits. Earl Sr. lived out his final years as an itinerant portraitist and died of alcoholism in 1801. As one historian put it, he was a man of recklessly intemperate habits, and literally murdered his own greatness with liquor. 17 This left Ann Earl with a teenage daughter and a son of about thirteen.
The most comprehensive research on the elder Earl has been conducted by Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser. 18 Kornhauser lauds Earl Sr. s career, saying that he was one of a few American artists to achieve success in both England and America in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. 19 As she explains, in his early career and indeed throughout his working life, Earl emulated John Singleton Copley s muted colors, strong side-lighting, careful attention to detail, and strong characterizations. 20 While in England, Earl even joked that Copley could learn something from his own portraits. In a letter to his friend Dr. Joseph Trumbull, Earl wrote that the picture which I have begun and finished scince you was heir is the best that eaver I painted, I intend to offer it to Copley to coppey for his improvement. 21 Kornhauser s argument hinges on her belief that Earl deliberately altered his style to suit the aesthetic sensibilities of his patrons in the various regions he worked. 22 As Kornhauser shows, Earl s New York City images appear more refined and elaborate than his rural portraits. Ralph Earl s success depended on his ability to produce paintings that suited the tastes of his patrons, whether they were wealthy rural landowners or aristocratic New Yorkers.
This method of style manipulation was conveyed to the younger Earl and was critical to his success. This idea is clearly discernible in the distinct styles he adopted depending on the particular sitter and the geographical location. His career can be roughly divided into three phases: his New England period (1800-1809, although the latest attributed work from this period dates to 1804), his European period (1809-1815), and his Jacksonian period (1817-1838), the focus of this book. In each stage, Earl s style was distinctly different from that which preceded it. He attained measured success in all three phases of his career and was able to support himself through artistic production alone his entire life. This may be partly attributed to his ability, learned from his father, to tailor his portraits to his sitters tastes.
In characterizing the style of domestic items that appealed to rural patrons like those who hired the Earls in New England, David Jaffee explains, the growing availability of fashionable furnishings across the United States was based upon no mere diffusion of high-style items, but rather a hybrid creation of cosmopolitan and vernacular design. Jaffee describes the parlors in which the portraits were displayed as having represented provincial versions of a refined vision. 23 The more refined portrait style that appealed to Earl Sr. s London and New York sitters necessarily needed to be altered for his rural New England clientele. While these patrons were certainly aware of high-style fashion, which they saw in the publications disseminated by the growing printing industry, the fashion of the countryside was relatively conservative. Jaffee describes the paintings that were popular in this region as hybrid creations, conforming to provincial tastes for plain and flat likenesses, but produced by artists with some academic training. 24 Having spent his formative years as a houseguest in many rural upper-crust parlors, Earl Jr. was well aware of these sitters tastes, and his early development saw him successfully appeal to this spare style. The younger Earl was also very fortunate to come of age at the turn of the nineteenth century, when Americans were becoming increasingly eager consumers of their own likenesses. The desire to have one s portrait painted grew significantly in the United States between 1800 and 1850, and as the American economy grew, along with a steadily expanding middle class, so too did the desire of citizens, even those in rural areas, to own portraits. Earl capitalized on this in the North and later as the first artist in the western country of Tennessee.
Earl Sr. s career might have had an even more lasting impact on his son s had his career and life not been in decline in Earl Jr. s formative years. The younger Earl had begun assisting his father s efforts at a very young age, traveling as his assistant from at least age ten. As Kornhauser documents, in 1799 the elder Earl left Bennington, Vermont, with Earl Jr. for Northampton, Massachusetts, where he painted several portraits, but even she admits, The noticeable decline in the care Earl took with these portraits may reflect the artist s growing physical decline due to his drinking habits. She goes on to say that The quality of these works is so inferior, that were it not for the fact that they are signed by the artist, one might assume that they were executed by one of Earl s many, less accomplished followers. 25 Despite this decline, Earl s father had a lasting impact on his son and the rest of his family. A charming anecdote from much later offers evidence of this. On his visit to his sister and nieces in New York in 1832, much to everyone s delight Earl offered to make a portrait of his father on the basis of a profile of him that his niece Mary possessed. Mary later wrote in appreciation, saying that I cannot but continue to express my gratitude for the kind offer you made me of presenting me with a specimen of your painting in the likeness of my grandfather of your having again repeated it in your letter. You certainly know how highly it will be appreciated. 26 While a reproduction of this hand-drawn profile is still extant in the collection of the Hermitage, it is unknown whether Earl ever completed the promised portrait of his father.
Unlike his son, Earl Sr. made no pretense of becoming a history painter. In addition, according to Kornhauser, unlike [Mather] Brown and Trumbull who had received a formal education, Earl, like most American artists of the era, was hindered by a lack of the classical and literary education essential for history painting. 27 Earl did, however, hope to cultivate a taste for landscape painting among his New England patrons, and, inspired by works he had seen in England, he often included natural elements in his paintings. The elder Earl especially favored the landscape as an appropriate setting for women. He was among the first Americans to create pure landscapes, and he was painting these in New England long before the Hudson River School painters. 28 He created the first painted views of several New England towns. This interest in landscape was later adopted by the younger Earl, as evidenced in paintings done throughout his career. He utilized a landscape as a backdrop for several of his earliest portraits of New England women. Once in Tennessee, he created pure landscape paintings of the rolling countryside on at least two occasions, and these became the earliest known Tennessee landscape paintings. Earl Sr. was also the first American artist to travel to Niagara Falls and to depict the tremendous view, which he did in panoramic form (the painting measured approximately twenty by fifteen feet but is no longer extant) in 1799. After being exhibited in Northampton, Massachusetts, the painting traveled to Philadelphia, where Charles Willson Peale exhibited it in his museum, then located in the Pennsylvania State House. 29 Although Earl Jr. probably did not travel to the Falls with his father, Earl Sr. s commercial ventures associated with the exhibition of the panorama and his dealings with Peale educated his son at an impressionable age about some aspects of the business of art. It is also possible that he visited Peale s museum, where he would have received exposure both to portraits of American heroes and to a natural history, art, and historical museum.
Although virtually nothing is known about Earl Jr. s formal education, unlike his father he did receive an adequate one. It is possible that the astute young man was self-taught or home schooled in his youngest years because of the family s constant travel. However, to judge from the types of books he listed in his library after his return from Europe, as well as from his insatiable appetite for knowledge as seen in his letters and his accomplished writings, it is evident that he was relatively well educated. By his late twenties he had amassed an impressive collection of at least fifty-eight books. Earl kept a list, inscribed Catalogue of Books belonging to my library, which included two volumes of Milton s works, six volumes of Shakespeare, Homer s Odyssey , Burke s On the Sublime , Byron s works, and many encyclopedias, memoirs, and dictionaries, including Napoleon s letters and memoir. 30 Earl also produced several paintings in England and France that were based on well-known literary works. 31 In addition, unlike his father s, the younger Earl s letters are extremely genteel and marked by immaculate penmanship, learned spelling, and perfect grammar. Although it seems surprising that Earl was able to obtain such an elevated level of culture and education, this and his easy manner and gentlemanly nature served him well throughout his career as he made his way both in Europe and back in the United States.
Earl Jr. s Early Paintings
Ralph E. W. Earl was fortunate to come of age in a period of tremendous population and economic growth in the northeastern region where he lived. As noted, the agricultural expansion and commercial development in rural, post-Revolutionary New England prompted a shift toward consumerism there for the first time. 32 Along with this came a growth in the popularity and prevalence of portraiture. According to Jaffee, The provincial elite wanted a family record, similar in purpose to, but grander in style than, the genealogies bound in treasured Bibles or hung on bare household walls. 33 Portraiture became one avenue by which early nineteenth-century Americans explored their cultural identity. The range in quality and price of these images varied tremendously; artists ranged from untrained limners who produced profile images around a dining room table to the Earls, the elder of whom had European training (which Earl Jr. would also gain later). A young, enterprising rural artist like Earl Jr. could do very well as an itinerant portraitist, especially in light of his father s success in the region.
After a life of economic hardship, during which he hated producing portraits and toiled to elevate the taste of the American public beyond portraiture, the well-known artist John Vanderlyn offered his nephew, John Vanderlyn Jr., the following piece of advice: Were I to begin life again, I should not hesitate to follow this plan, that is, to paint portraits cheap and slight, for the mass of folks can t judge of the merits of a well finished picture, Indeed, moving about through the country must be an agreeable way of passing ones time and if he was wise might be the means of establishing himself advantageously in the world. 34 This indeed seems to be what Earl did in his earliest years as a painter. Painting cheap and slight portraits in New England ultimately funded Earl Jr. s five-year sojourn to Europe beginning in 1809. Earl and Vanderlyn had actually become close acquaintances while the two shared a Paris studio in 1814-1815 and had certainly discussed their various endeavors before traveling to France. Perhaps Vanderlyn was even inspired by his friend Earl to offer the advice to his nephew years later. Although Earl would not spend his entire career as a traveling portraitist for the middle class, his early itinerant experiences provided him a springboard to greater things.
Although the circumstances of Ralph E. W. Earl s earliest painting practices are unknown, his early works show the unmistakable and overriding influence of his father s rural New England portraits. One particular attribute that Earl Jr. learned to appreciate from his father was the importance of a sitter s attire, and this would serve him well as he went on to meticulously depict, among other sitters, Andrew Jackson, dressed variously as a general, a civilian, and a statesman. Earl Jr. seemed to realize from a young age that one s dress in a portrait played a crucial role in the painting s message, and he probably learned this from his father. According to one art historian, Earl [Sr.] was an especially capable painter of costume and one is constantly intrigued by his picturing of hair ornaments, embroideries, shawls, laces and fichus. The imitation of various fabrics, satins, silks, linens, woolens, etc., and the handling of draperies he managed very well. Probably in the product of no other American artist can one study more successfully the costume of the time. 35 One of the best examples of the elder Earl s facility with a portrait s specific details occurs in his depiction of Elijah Boardman ( fig. 1 ). Boardman was a member of a wealthy family in New Milford, Connecticut, and commissioned a life-size, full-length portrait from Earl Sr. in 1789. In the painting, the successful merchant and landowner stands before a vast array of expensive silks and fabrics, which he offered for sale in his shop. Not only does the painting serve to advertise the types of fine goods Boardman sold, but also it displays Earl s ability to render an array of textures. 36 It reveals Boardman as a high-standing gentleman of commercial pursuits. Earl transmitted the importance of such details to his son, and Earl Jr. applied this understanding in the portraits he produced independently in New England after his father s death. The younger Earl was also exposed to the importance of learning and culture through sitters like Boardman. In the portrait, Boardman s hand rests on a counting desk within which volumes, including works by Shakespeare and Milton, are prominently displayed. Earl Jr. began amassing a similar collection as a young man, revealing a shared desire, perhaps created in him by people like Boardman, to advance his commercial pursuits through cultural education.


Fig. 1 . Ralph Earl, Elijah Boardman , 1789.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bequest of Susan W. Tyler. Image Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, New York.


Fig. 2 . Ralph Earl, Landscape View of Old Bennington , 1798.
Bennington Museum, Bennington, Vermont.
In Earl Sr. s final years, between 1798 and 1801, he traveled through Vermont and Massachusetts and instructed several students. 37 As an adolescent Earl Jr. probably received his initial instruction in painting from his father around this time, when he was also teaching his son s second cousin William Southgate. 38 In 1798, Earl s wife, Ann, tired of her husband s drinking and the constant travel, settled permanently in Troy, New York, with their daughter, Mary Ann (1787-1866), leaving Earl Jr. to travel with his father studying painting. 39 This tutelage is evidenced by at least one portrait executed under his father s direction as well as by the obvious influence of Earl Sr. more generally on the younger Earl s early works (discussed later; see fig. 3 ).
In this burgeoning age of consumer goods, in which paintings were considered luxury household items similar to clocks and fancy chairs, craftsmen learned their trades through apprenticeship, and Earl was fortunate to apprentice with his father from a very young age. Some light may be shed on Earl s early training in a landscape painting by Earl Sr., Landscape View of Old Bennington ( fig. 2 ). In the corner of the large painting, the elder Earl included a portrait of himself sketching before the meticulous townscape he had recreated on the canvas. Rather than facing toward the land, however, Earl shows himself in the act of sketching a young boy, who poses before him. To the artist s right appears another young child playing with a dog. It is likely that these are the Earl children or perhaps Earl Jr. and Southgate. This painting offers the only known example of tutelage between father and son, and it demonstrates the younger Earl s early exposure to his father s methods and artistic production (he would have been about ten years old at this time). 40 Earl s experience with his father set him up to become a successful itinerant portraitist after Earl Sr. s death. While this might not have been the ideal lifestyle, the vast majority of artists in New England at the time were itinerant, and, as Vanderlyn had noted, it must be an agreeable way of passing one s time. Earl went on to produce paintings that were in tune with the popular styles of the period; he was fortunate to have had the experience as a very young man of training with his father, an established artist. Whereas most artists at that time began their careers as house, sign, or chair painters, Earl was producing original oil paintings from the start.
Earl s earliest documented painting, and the only work known to have been created during his father s lifetime, is an oil portrait of two-year-old Edward Gere created in 1800 ( fig. 3 ). 41 On this occasion, Ralph Earl Sr. allowed his son to assist on a portrait commission from Isaac Gere, Edward s father, a Northampton, Massachusetts, clock-maker. The elder Earl painted pendant portraits of Isaac Gere and Jemima Kingsley Gere, his wife (both in private collections), and Earl Jr. depicted the couple s son on a separate canvas, which he proudly signed, in large red crimson letters, R. E. W. Earl/Pinxt 1800. 42 The younger Earl s signature alludes to his own composition and painting of the image, although, noting that the painting s facial characteristics and brushwork resemble those of Earl Sr., Kornhauser believes the work was probably finished by the senior Earl. 43 This charming image depicts the two-year-old child with bright eyes, a mischievous grin, and the feathery hair of a baby; he is holding a large cat. The child is depicted wearing a loose frock of the type generally worn by children (regardless of gender) until age three or four. The young Earl has borrowed devices commonly used by his father such as the green curtain pulled back to reveal a window overlooking a rolling New England landscape. The painting was quite an accomplishment for the adolescent Earl. The work is executed in a clear, realistic manner with fine paint handling. Earl successfully rendered a sense of life in the young boy s wide-set eyes and pursed lips. The portrait not only demonstrates Earl Jr. s skill as an artist but also suggests that he had probably been studying with his father for quite some time by this point.


Fig. 3. Portrait of Edward Gere , 1800.
Location presently unknown. Image reproduction courtesy New-York Historical Society. This and all other works of art by Ralph E. W. Earl unless otherwise identified.
Even in this first, very early work by the younger Earl, his style, subject, and working manner and those of his father were consistent with the trends in portraiture in the region. For example, adults predominated as subjects in New England paintings of the period, and children were substantially underrepresented relative to their numbers in society. 44 Children were generally ascribed subsidiary roles in portraiture and in everyday life; similarly, Earl, the apprentice, was allowed to paint the less important aspect of the commission. Yet in the Gere portrait Earl followed many of the common trends of childhood portraiture and displayed an incredible artistic awareness at such a young age. The baby is depicted with a cat, an animal that in adult portraits was typically reserved for association with women. However, as Karin Calvert has shown, children under age fourteen of both genders were often depicted with traditionally feminine objects, such as fruit, flowers, or pets, to signify not their gender but their subordinate status as children. 45
After the death of his father, in 1801, the year following the Gere commission, Earl continued to paint portraits in the Connecticut River Valley and in Troy, New York, where his mother and sister had settled. Concrete information about Earl s early career in New England after his father s death, when he was only about twelve or thirteen years old, is extremely limited, but his activities may be documented to a certain extent by the portraits he produced and the sitters for whom he worked. According to Kornhauser, his portraits of this period continued to demonstrate a marked reliance on his father s example. 46 Earl did employ elements frequently applied by his father, common Grand Manner tropes the elder painter had seen both in New York and especially in England, such as sweeping draperies, landscaped views, especially behind his female sitters, and objects that convey the interests of his subjects. This practice was actually standard in the region. Local traditions in furniture making, for example, and in painting were passed down through the generations, and these traditions survived over time. As David Jaffee has shown, artisan families in the hinterlands perpetuated specific designs. 47 However, the younger Earl was also developing his own style and brushwork technique in this period while still struggling to master figure painting. His earliest paintings are indicative of a much greater level of stark realism and hard modeling than many of his father s more accomplished rural works, and this reflected general regional trends as well. 48 Earl Sr. s renown in the area certainly also helped his son gain patronage, and he probably resided with some of his father s former patrons when he took portrait commissions while away from his mother and sister in Troy.


Fig. 4. Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman , 1802.
Courtesy of Historic Deerfield, Deerfield, Massachusetts.
Earl s first documented painting after the death of his father depicts an unknown gentleman ( fig. 4 ). Here again, in crimson lettering, Earl signed the work R. Earl./Pinxt 1802. It seems that the now roughly fourteen-year-old Earl thrived despite his father s absence, and he showed here his ability to gain commissions outside his father s shadow. In the image, Earl created a waist-length portrait in an oval format, depicting a stern gentleman peering directly out at the viewer. He wears a navy blue, double-breasted jacket with brass buttons over a white shirt and cravat and sits against a plain brown background. Although this portrait is simpler in composition than the portrait of Edward Gere, Earl was also clearly leaning less on his father s example while exploring what was to become his own independent style. It is more direct and simplistic than his father s works, and in this case he abandoned his father s interest in background details to focus on the sitter s likeness. This portrait is also more finished and without the compositional difficulties evident in the earlier Gere portrait. Later in his life, he would draw on this same, simplified composition that appealed to the rural New England landowners for many of his Tennessee patrons.


Fig. 5. Reverend Elihu Ely , ca. 1803.
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia. Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch.
Quite similar in format to the painting of the unknown gentleman is a pair of pendant portraits of Reverend Elihu Ely (1777-1839) and his wife, Grace Rose Ely (1777-1840, figs. 5 and 6

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