An important portrait of an American loyalist by James Earl, 1793

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An important portrait by the 18th century portrait painter, James Earl of Massachusetts.

James Earl (17961-1796) was a British colonial painter born on the continent of North America, but who, after the Revolution, went to England where he was known as a portrait painter to the Loyalists who had fled to England.  

Earl's ancestors were Quakers who emigrated from Exeterm England to Rhodes Island in about 1634.   His grandfather later settled in Worcester County, Massachusetts in around 1720.  Earl was born in Paxton Massachussetts on 1st May 1761.    Earl's brother, Ralph Earl, was ten years his senior and went on to become the more famous portrait painter of the two.    James and Ralph attended the Leicester academy where their names can be found in a surviving schoolbook.   During the Revolution, the boys father, Ralph Earl, was a farmer who went on to become a Captian in the local militia.   This caused conflict with his son, Ralph, who was a Loyalists, and who left for England in 1784.  There is no direct evidence that James was a Loyalist or that he took an active part in the Revolution, except that he largely painted Loyalist subjects.   James followed his brother to England and probably received his training as an artist from his brother. 

James went to study under Benjamin West, an anglo-American painter and President of the Royal Academy.    We know Earl was living at 6 Sweetings Alley, Royal Exchange, London in 1987 when he exhibited at the Royal Academy.

James Earl enrolled in the London schools of the Royal Academy on March 24 1789.

Earl returned to America in 1794 (the year after this portrait) and died in Charleston in 1796 of Yellow Fever on August 18th.   His obituary read:

"Died Also at Charleston, Mr James Earl.  In this line of his profession, he was excelled by none in America and 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 wide and three children in London."

James Earl was the father of Augustus Earle (1793-1838) who lived a life of exploration and adventure. He was born in London and at the age of 14 had some of his paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy, along with his father’s. He became a draughtsman and painter on ships with captains who wanted a pictorial record of their voyages. He toured the Mediterranean and then the open seas.

He was a draughtsman on the Beagle, the ship that carried Charles Darwin to the Galapagos and into immortality.


To the back of the portrait is inscribed:

"Mr Janner. Age 41 by J. Earl. 1793

No 5a Newham Street, Oxford Street, London"

We know Earl was inscribing his portraits in this way at the time as his 1793 portrait of Hugh Sommerville is inscribed verso

"Col Sommerville aged 63 by J. Earl 1793".

Scholarly work has been conducted to identify and document Earl's unknown portraits of the Loyalists he painted during his time in London.   Mr Janner would fit into this category.

The portrait is uncleaned and untouched by us.   A small amount fo paint loss has occurred on the neck line of the sitter and there is an amateur patch repair with corresonding overprinting to the right of the sitter.

A delightful and important discovery of one of Earl's uncatalogued portraits.

Oil on canvas, unframed

Measuring: 36cm x 30 cm

London, 1793