I’m always excited when I can offer you a piece of art by a great artist. John Brewster, Jr. (1766-1854) is certainly high in the list of great American folk artists of the Early Republic. You can find a short bio on him on the Folk Portrait Artists page so please follow the link at the bottom of this listing for more information about this deaf-mute artist whose work has been labeled by art historians as masterpieces of American art. Brewster is known for the great expressiveness with which he portrayed his subjects with particular emphasis on serene expressions, clearly delineated features and delicate flesh tones. The eyes of all of Brewster’s sitters seek the viewer with a soulful peace.
This attributed portrait miniature well-depicts Brewster’s painting style. The sitter almost pops from the cross-hatch painted blue background. His soulful brown eyes draw you into the painting, as Brewster intended. As is often seen in Brewster’s portraits, the eyelashes are depicted with one solid dark line at the edge of the upper lid. It almost looks like eyeliner but perfectly depicts the eyelashes without taking away from those beautiful eyes. The gentleman has a ruddy complexion which indicates that he spent many hours outdoors. He is mature but still young enough to have smooth skin. Brewster handles with the face with soft skin tones and a smooth complexion. The artist strongly depicts the sitter’s face with these details: the man’s somewhat crooked nose (note the strong shadow to the side of the nose); the dimple in the chin; the charcoal grey eyebrows (which Brewster depicts with texture by stippling the paint); the shadow of the gent’s facial hair showing from just under the skin around the cupid’s bow mouth.
Our sitter wears his hair somewhat short (and thinning) on top of his head and combed forward, with long sideburns and a pigtail tied with a very thin ribbon. The hair atop his head seems to be natural and not a wig. During the sitter’s time period some men still wore a pigtail queue which was woven into their natural hair and generally held in back with a buckle. This pigtail may be natural or a pigtail wig (and you thought hair extensions were a modern invention). Brewster depicts the hair atop the gent’s head brilliantly with individually painted strands (a Brewster signature characteristic). These hair strands show that the hair of our sitter is turning grey. Look at the strands and you will see several shades of grey and brown. I can go on and on about the sitter’s clothing and why he has been difficult to date. Some aspects point to 1790 and some to 1810. Some people bucked against the changing of styles and wore their favorite styles long after they were popular. The people who stayed with the fashions they liked instead of constantly changing were generally older people (as is still the case) and this gent is not old. Perhaps his occupation influenced his fashion sense. He certainly looks classy dressed and coifed as he is!
The portrait miniature is painted on a natural wafer and housed in the apparently original metal pendant-type case. The metal is either rose-gold or copper. The back of the pendant has a hair receptacle with plaited brown hair and gold filigree initials “GM.” Pendant measures 3 1/2" x 2 1/4" with the hanging loop. There are some hardly noticeable scratches to the edge of the metal pendant and 3 minute losses of paint at about 11 o’clock of the background and a bit of expected edge rubbing at about 5 o’clock. All of little importance to the piece which is really outstanding in quality and condition. Circa 1810.
Please see the Folk Portrait Artists page for more information about John Brewster Jr.
Ex-Collection of Carolyn & Tom Porter