John Wesley Jarvis

(1 July [1780?] 1781 - 12 January 1840}

Portrait painter, was born in South Shields, England, the son of American-born parents John Jarvis and Ann Lambert. Jarvis’s father, a scrivener and an active Methodist, probably had returned to England during the Revolution because of his Loyalist beliefs. Some time after Jarvis was born his father returned to America, settling ultimately in New York. Jarvis remained in England with his mother and his siblings. For at least some of this time they lodged in the household of his mother’s great-great-uncle, Methodism’s founder John Wesley (earlier biographical directories have claimed a closer relationship between Jarvis and his namesake), until they immigrated to New York City around 1785. The Jarvises eventually settled in Philadelphia in the early 1790s. In 1793, Ann Jarvis was listed in the Philadelphia city directory as a midwife.

The Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists

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. 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.

His son was born in New York, where 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 the province of painting, under the brush of a Jarvis, the canvas has almost glowed with life, as the pictures of Perry, Decatur, and Bainbridge will attest. John Wesley Jarvis was one of the most accomplished artists of his time. He was the teacher of the late John Inman, who was no unworthy pupil of such a master.

John Wesley Jarvis, portrait-painter, was born at South Shields on Tyne, England, 1780, and died January 12, 1840. He was a nephew of John Wesley, came to Philadelphia in 1785; at the age of ten was an apprentice to Savage, the engraver; at twenty-one began that business for himself, in New York city, and soon commenced portrait-painting, with great success. He was a man of genius, but of irregular habits, and excelled as a humor.

The account of his painting the portrait of Commodore Bainbridge is an amusing incident of this favorite old painter: When Bainbridge sat to him, the old weather-beaten seaman invariably fell asleep. This annoyed Jarvis, and, for the first time in his life, he found his wit and humor were of no avail in rousing his sitter to proper wakefulness; whereupon, when Jarvis reached that point in the execution of his painting that the expression was to be caught, he commenced a tirade against the navy, questioned the heroism of its officers and men, and kept up his banter until Bainbridge's eyes flashed as they were wont on the quarter-deck. Jarvis talked on and rapidly painted, until the old Commodore started from his chair, and, approaching Jarvis, shook his fist in his face, and thundered out he would not "allow a facemaker to speak against his profession " Another instant, and a personal assault might have ensued, when Jarvis sprung aside, burst into a hearty laugh, and told the Commodore he had to wake him up somehow, else the picture would have no more expression than a gunner's swab. His head of Bainbridge is one of the best pictures Jarvis ever painted.

During one of his trips to New Orleans he earned, in six months, six thousand dollars, but his profuse and convivial habits kept him constantly poor. He painted heads of Bishop Moore, John Randolph, DeWitt Clinton, Halleck, O. H. Perry, Stephen Van Renselaer, Bainbridge, Decatur, Gen. John Armstrong (now in possession of his daughter, Mrs. Win. B. Astor), and many other national celebrities.

Drake's American Biography; The Jarvis family: or, The descendants of the first settlers of the name in Massachusetts and Long Island, and those who have more recently settled in other parts of the United States and British America, 1879.

American painter of English birth. He grew up in Philadelphia, where he knew many of the city’s resident artists and was apprenticed to Edward Savage, whom he remembered as an ‘ignorant beast …not qualified to teach me any art but that of deception’ (Bolton and Groce). Jarvis cultivated a formidable natural artistic talent through his own efforts. By 1802, he was established in New York as an engraver and very soon thereafter formed a profitable portrait business with Joseph Wood (c. 1778–1830). In 1807, he opened his own studio and from then on was a proficient and celebrated society painter, numbering many statesmen and such writers as Washington Irving among his patrons.

John Wesley Jarvis, (born 1781, South Shields, Durham, England -- died January 14, 1840, New York, New York, U.S.), American painter considered his era’s leading portraitist based in New York City.

Growing up in Philadelphia, where he gained some knowledge of art from sign makers, Jarvis was apprenticed in 1800 to Edward Savage, a New York engraver and painter. Later, in partnership with Joseph Wood, he painted profiles and miniatures. He traveled to major cities, such as Baltimore, Maryland, and Charleston, South Carolina, for commissions while maintaining headquarters in New York, where, in 1815, he profited from exhibiting Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller’s controversial painting, Danaë. While in Louisiana he established an important studio, collaborating with, among others, Henry Inman, who had served Jarvis for seven years as apprentice and assistant, and John Quidor. By the time he met John James Audubon in 1821 in New Orleans, Jarvis was in his prime and had become a dandy of exotic, bohemian proportions. After the War of 1812 the Common Council commissioned him to paint huge republican portraits for the city hall of New York; among them is the famous Oliver H. Perry (1815–17).

Encyclopædia Britannica, Article Free Pass Read, 1781-840

View painter's art: John Wesley Jarvis (1781-1840) [new window view]