Although this miniature portrait of a lady is unsigned, it has been tentatively attributed as an early profile miniature by John Wesley Jarvis (1780-1840) and was probably painted around 1805. At this stage he and Joseph Wood were in partnership. However, it is also possible it was painted by one of his contemporaries.
(In fact a kind visitor has subsequently commented; "Just came across the profile of a woman that you thought might be by Jarvis. It's possible but Jarvis signed most of his profiles. I think a better option would be William Sheys, a Jarvis contemporary." However, the following information may still be of interest for anyone researching Jarvis.)
Jarvis was born in England and came to the United States at the age of five. He trained as an engraver with Edward Savage and this profile portrait has some of the characteristics of engraved portraits of around 1800, such as those made by St Memin.
Blattel records Jarvis was noted for miniatures, profiles, and silhouettes. Jarvis worked in Philadelphia Pa, Charleston SC, New Orleans La, Richmond Va, New York City, and Baltimore MD. Blattel also records that Jarvis invented a machine for drawing profiles on glass.
As can be seen from the close up image, the hair has been painted by building up fine lines, rather than a block of color with added highlights. The use of fine lines supports an attribution to an artist who had been trained as an engraver, such as Jarvis, as engravers' create dark colour blocks by using closely cross-hatched lines.
Jarvis affected singularity in dress and manners, and his mots were the talk of the day. He was one of the earliest American painters to give serious attention to the study of anatomy. But his work deteriorated, and he died in great poverty in New York City. He was the father of the miniature painter Charles Wesley Jarvis.
Apart from his own son, John Wesley Jarvis apprenticed other miniature and portrait painters, including Thomas Sully, Joseph Wood from 1803-1809, Bass Otis around 1812, and Henry Inman from 1814-1821.
It has been recorded that John Wesley Jarvis made the death mask of Tom Paine. Also that "The gifted painter, John Wesley Jarvis, with whom Paine had formerly resided, testified that Paine on his death-bed reaffirmed the principles enunciated in his "Age of Reason." "
Jarvis painted fewer miniatures in the later years of his career, instead concentrating on oil portraits. For many years he was one of the foremost portrait painters in New York. There is a comprehensive account of his life and work at ABSTRACT Title of dissertation: PORTRAITURE AND POLITICS IN NEW ...
The rationale for the attribution of this miniature to Jarvis, is the close similarity of style to a profile portrait on card which was sold by Skinners in November 2007.
It was lot 147 and was described as follows; "Portrait Miniature of Mary Ten Broek. Signed and dated "Jarvis No. 122 Broadway 1807", sitter identified on inscription on reverse. Watercolor on card, 3 5/8 x 2 5/8 in., in a period embossed brass frame. Condition: Toning, foxing. Provenance: Peter Vorhees, New Brunswick, Erskine Hewitt sale 1938. Note: Mary Ten Broek was the wife of Cornelius Ten Broek, purportedly an Aide de Camp to George Washington. John Jarvis was born in South Shield, England, a nephew of theologian John Wesley. At the age of five he was brought to Philadelphia and apprenticed in engraving to Edward Savage. In 1801, he and Savage went to New York City, where Jarvis went into partnership doing miniature portraits with Joseph Wood. Estimate $400-600".
The Skinner portrait sold above the estimate and inclusive of buyer's commission the auction price was $2000.
In comparing the two portraits, the miniature acquired for this collection is on ivory, whereas the Skinner portrait is on card with toning and foxing, thus the colors of the ivory miniature appear bright by comparison. Against that the ivory miniature is unsigned and the sitter is unidentified. Both sitters have very long necks and their poses are almost identical. The background shading is similar, but the original background on the Skinner portrait is a little darker. 1296