Family Group Portrait by Joseph Blackburn
Family Group Portrait by Joseph Blackburn Family Group Portrait by Joseph Blackburn Family Group Portrait by Joseph Blackburn
Family Group Portrait by Joseph Blackburn

Family Group Portrait by Joseph Blackburn

  • This exceptionally rare family portrait was composed by the American artist Joseph Blackburn
  • Blackburn was among the most highly accomplished portrait painters in colonial America
  • The present portrait displays the English rococo style for which he was renowned
  • A similar portrait by Blackburn is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston)
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Item No. 30-8859
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Joseph Blackburn
c. 1730-1778 | British

Family Group Portrait

Oil on canvas

Joseph Blackburn was among the most important and highly accomplished portrait painters in early colonial America. Family Group Portrait is a superb example of his English rococo style, bringing together highly fashionable clothing with a fanciful setting that highlights the wealth of his sitter. Blackburn's portraits would drastically change the aesthetics of American portraiture for the generation of artists who followed him, making him one of the most significant figures in early American art history.

Like most artists of his generation, Blackburn was born and trained in London. He traveled to Boston by way of Bermuda and Newport in 1755, bringing with him knowledge of the latest fashions from Europe. He arrived at just the right time - the portraitists Robert Feke and John Greenwood had already left Boston, and the great John Singleton Copley was just 16 years old at the time, leaving Blackburn with little in terms of competition. This, along with his new repertoire of graceful poses and a particular talent for capturing the texture of lace and other materials, made him highly sought after by the Bostonian elite.

Family Group Portrait brings together all of the best elements of Blackburn's works - a soft rococo palette, graceful gestures, and luxurious costumes. While he did not seek to capture his subjects' personalities on canvas, he was certainly masterful in capturing their wealth. Here he presents his subject as proud paterfamilias, his hand nonchalantly resting upon his young daughter's shoulder. The child reaches intently for the cherries that are held out by her father; the fruit itself is a symbol of the family's colonial prosperity, while the flowers in the girl's other hand represent her youthful innocence. A very similar portrait group by Blackburn of the prominent Winslow family is currently in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston).

Likely born in England around 1730, Joseph Blackburn's early life is somewhat of a mystery. Little is know about the young painter until he makes his way to Bermuda and colonial America in the 1750s. He set up a highly prosperous studio in Boston, and counted a number of important early American families among his patrons, including the Apthorps, Lowells, Saltonstalls and Otises. Significantly, Blackburn held remarkable influence over the young John Singleton Copley, who would later emerge as the most noteworthy painter in the American colonies. Copley adopted Blackburn’s fashionable rococo style early in his career and soon became a significant source of competition for the older artist. Consequently, Blackburn returned to London in 1763, where he continued to paint portraits for the British elite. Today his works can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the Worchester Art Museum (Massachusetts), the San Diego Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and other important collections.

Circa 1755

Canvas: 48" high x 40" wide
Frame: 58 3/4" high x 51" wide
specifications
Period: 1700-1815
Origin:America
Subject:Portrait
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