John Wesley Jarvis


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Painter. A leading New York portrait painter and miniaturist, in his best likenesses he offered fresh and vivacious impressions of individual personality. His most famous painting, the dramatic if somewhat stagy Oliver Hazard Perry (City of New York, 1816), gave visual form to the romantic hero as a cultural ideal and appealed to the nationalistic enthusiasm encouraged by the War of 1812. The courageous and glamorous American naval commander appears in his moment of victory over the British fleet. Three subordinate figures in his small boat intensify the sense of action, while behind Perry a vigorously waving flag bears his motto “Don't Give Up the Ship.” Born in South Shields, Durham, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, to an English mother and American father, from 1786 Jarvis spent his boyhood in Philadelphia. There, in the mid-1790s he was apprenticed to Edward Savage and moved with him to New York in 1801. Soon working on his own, he also studied miniature painting with Edward Greene Malbone. A partnership formed in 1802 with portrait painter and miniaturist Joseph Wood (c. 1778–1830), who later worked in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., came to an end in 1810 when Jarvis left on the first of numerous winter trips to the South. He spent most of that season in Charleston, South Carolina, where he sometimes returned in future years, while at other times he sojourned in New Orleans and Mobile. On occasion during his career, he also journeyed to Boston, Washington, and other cities. In 1811 he moved to Baltimore but two years later was back in New York, which remained his permanent home. In 1814 New York commissioned for city hall six full-length likenesses of heroes from the War of 1812, including the Perry portrait. This prestigious recognition cemented Jarvis's reputation. For most of the ensuing two decades, he remained the city's most sought-after portrait painter. In 1834 a stroke ended his career. His son Charles Wesley Jarvis (1812–68) also became a successful portrait painter, although his competent work did not attain the eloquence of his father's. Born in New York, he grew up with his mother's family on Long Island following her death when he was an infant. Between 1828 and 1834 in New York and then in Philadelphia, he was trained by Henry Inman, who had been his father's assistant. In 1835 he opened his own New York studio. Although he continued to work in New York, by 1854 he had moved to Newark, New Jersey, where he died.

Subjects: Art.

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