Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Late 18th-Century Women Painted by James Earl (1761-1796)

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James Earl, the younger brother of artist Ralph Earl (1751-1801), also lived his brief life as an artist. He was born on the family farm in Leicester, Massachusettes, May 1, 1761, and died at age 35 in Charleston, South Carolina, August 18, 1796.

1792 Attributed to James Earl (1761-1796). Portrait of a Woman.

Earl painted in London between 1784 & 1794, when he left his young family and sailed to Charleston, South Carolina, painting there until dying suddenly of yellow fever.

1792 Attributed to Jame Earl (1761-1796). Portrait of Frances Horton. Reportedly painted in England.

Nothing is yet published from documented sources of James Earl’s early training, although it is speculated that James Earl either fled to England, when he was 17 with his brother in 1778, or met his brother there in 1784. Ralph Earl returned to Massachusetts in 1785, after a 7 year respite in England, while all that rebel furor cooled. James Earl's paintings after he arrived in Charleston seemed more relaxed & animated, than those he reportedly painted just before leaving London.

1790s Attributed to James Earl (1761-1796). Portrait of a Woman.

James Earl was exhibiting at the Royal Academy in London by 1787, where he continued to exhibit there every year, until he died, including the 2 years he had returned to the United States. He was a formal student at the Royal Academy in 1789.

1794 James Earl (1761-1796). Mrs. John Rogers (Elizabeth Rodman Rogers).

In the same year, Earl married Georgiana Caroline Pilkington Smyth (1759–1838), widow of the Loyalist Joseph Brewer Palmer Smyth of New Jersey & Westminister, England. The new Earl family produced three children: Clara, Phoebe (1790–1863), and Augustus (1793–1838). They also raised widow Smyths’ daughter, Elizabeth Ann, and son, William Henry, with whom Georgiana was pregnant, when Mr. Smyth died. Georgiana would have raised Phoebe & Augustus alone, as they were just toddlers, when their father died in far off Charleston.

1794 James Earl (1761-1796). Mrs. James Courtney.

One obituary published at James Earl's death in 1796, noted he had been in Charleston for about 2 years and that he had lived in London for ten years before that, making his arrival in England about 1784.

1794-6 James Earl (1761-1796). Sophia Bignon de Bonneville.

City Gazette
, Charleston, South Carolina 20 August 1796.
Died, on the morning og the 18th instant, Mr. James Earl, portrait painter, a native of Massachusettes. In the line of his profession he was excelled by non in America and by very few in Europe. His amiable disposition and agreeable manners, make his sudden death much lamented by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. He has left a wife and three children in London.


1794-96 James Earl (1761-1796). Rebecca Pritchard and her daughter Eliza.

James' children Phoebe & Augustus both became accomplished artists in England. Phoebe was a still-life artist who was appointed fruit & flower painter to Queen Adelaide, the wife of William IV.

Augustus was restless like his uncle & father. He traveled in the Mediterranean (1815–17), North America (1818–20), and South America (1820–24). From 1825-1828, Augustus, who spelled his surname Earle, journeyed to Australia & New Zealand, painting landscapes and portraits of aboriginies & colonial officials.

Like their father, Phoebe & Augustus exhibited at the Royal Academy during the early 1800s; and he also displayed works at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1818, when he visited America.

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