In this pastel portrait of merchant Jonathan Jackson (1743–1810), Copley imbued his sitter with suavity and sophistication. Jackson is dressed in a blue-green silk damask morning gown and gazes directly at the viewer, exhibiting a worldliness and self-possession that reflects the position he...
In this pastel portrait of merchant Jonathan Jackson (1743–1810), Copley imbued his sitter with suavity and sophistication. Jackson is dressed in a blue-green silk damask morning gown and gazes directly at the viewer, exhibiting a worldliness and self-possession that reflects the position he had obtained by the late 1760s. Jackson had graduated from Harvard in 1761, had significant financial interests in Newburyport and Boston, was a partner in the flourishing importing firm of Jackson and Bromfield, and had married Sarah Barnard of Salem in 1767. There seems to have been a special rapport between Copley and Jackson, or else Jackson was a great admirer of Copley’s work, for the merchant ordered at least three portraits of himself from Copley in the late 1760s. Both the second version of this pastel (1767–69, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston) and a miniature (about 1770, private collection) show Jackson in profile, head turned back to address the viewer; long, tapered fingers hold the satin lapel of the morning coat, a gesture of elegance and grace worthy of van Dyck, whose work Copley admired. Three more likenesses of Jackson by Copley are listed in Augustus Perkins’s 1873 catalogue of the artist’s works; these are all oils in various formats and only one—an oval portrait painted in England around 1785 (private collection)—can be identified today. Copley began working in pastel in 1758 and completed some fifty-five crayon portraits in America before he left for England. Pastel portraits were very fashionable in Europe during the eighteenth century, popularized by the work of Rosalba Carriera and Jean-Etienne Liotard, to whom Copley wrote for recommendations concerning supplies. Portraits drawn in crayon were favored because the process was relatively fast, required few sittings, and had none of the offensive odors of oil or turpentine. Since Copley was known to be a slow worker in oil, requiring multiple sittings, the shorter time required for execution of a pastel portrait must have appealed to an industrious businessman like Jonathan Jackson. Copley’s portrait reinforces the claim of Jackson’s biographer that the merchant was careful of his personal appearance; the elegant informality of his attire testifies both to the sitter’s comfort with his social position and to the fashionable intimacy of the medium. Copley portrayed his subject not only as stylish and urbane but also as a thoughtful man; in the years following the creation of this portrait, Jackson proved to be a person of great nobility and high principle, sacrificing much of his personal wealth to the revolutionary cause and serving his country in a number of civic offices. As the Revolution approached, he freed his slave Pomp, “in Consideration of the Impropriety I feel & have long felt, in holding any Person in Constant Bondage more especially at a time when my Country is so warmly contending for the liberty every man ought to enjoy.” Jackson himself was a member of the Committee of Safety, a delegate to the Continental Congress, United States marshal for Massachusetts, treasurer of the state, and treasurer of Harvard College. For the last seven years of his life, he was the first president of Boston Bank. Notes 1. Copley to Jean-Etienne Liotard, September 30, 1762, in Letters and Papers of John Singleton Copley and Henry Pelham, 1739–1776, ed. Guernsey Jones (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1914), 26. 2. Clifford K. Shipton, Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, vol. 15 (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1965), 59. 3. Suffolk County Probate Records, vol. 75, p. 36, quoted in John J. Currier, History of Newburyport, Mass., 1764–1905 (Newburyport, Mass.: printed by author, 1906), 71. This text was adapted and expanded by Janet L. Comey from Carol Troyen’s entry in John Singleton Copley in America, by Carrie Rebora et al., exh. cat. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with Harry N. Abrams), 1995.
Late 1760s, probably commissioned by Judge John Lowell (1743-1802), Newburyport, Mass., good friend of the sitter; 1802, by descent to his wife, Rebecca Graves Tyng Lowell (1747-1816); 1816, by bequest to the youngest daughter of the sitter, Mary Jackson Lee (Mrs. Henry Lee, 1783-1860), Boston; 1860, by descent to her son, Henry Lee (1817-1898), Brookline, Mass.; by descent to his daughter, Elizabeth P. Lee Shattuck (Mrs. Frederick C. Shattuck); by 1938, by descent to the great great grandson of the sitter, Dr. George C. Shattuck (1879-1972), Brookline, Mass. By 1960s, to Francis W. Peabody, Chestnut Hill, Mass.; 1987, partial purchase and partial gift of Francis W. Peabody to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 24, 1987)
Gift of Mr. Francis W. Peabody in memory of George C. and Virginia C. Shattuck and Henry H. and Zoe Oliver Sherman Fund