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American Paintings and Sculpture
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
Artist: John Wesley Jarvis, American, born England, 1780–1840
Subject: Eliza Hopkins Dowdall, American, 1786–1851

Eliza Hopkins Dowdall (née Eliza Hopkins Nicholl, 1786–1851)


Watercolor on paper

4 3/4 × 3 1/2 in. (12.1 × 8.9 cm)
Lelia A. and John Hill Morgan, B.A. 1893, LL.B. 1896, M.A. (Hon.) 1929, Collection

Eliza Hopkins Nicholl was part of a Stratford, Connecticut, shipping family. Her father, Matthias Nicholl, held shipping interests in Stratford and New York, and her brother Samuel was a successful privateer in the War of 1812 and a merchant skipper after the war. Eliza married the ship captain George Robert Dowdall in 1808, and the couple commissioned this portrait and its partner (depicting George) from John Wesley Jarvis the following year, perhaps to commemorate their marriage. In 1826, Eliza and her husband built a large house in Stratford, with Matthias overseeing work while Captain Dowdall was overseas commanding the ship Superior. Sadly, the captain did not spend much time in his new home; three years later he contracted the plague while in command of the Ajax, dying aboard ship in China in November 1829. Eliza’s brother Edward Nicoll, first officer of the Ajax, also met the same fate, dying the same week as Dowdall.

Portraitist John Wesley Jarvis was born in England, the son of American-born parents who had probably returned to England during the Revolutionary War because of their Loyalist beliefs. Jarvis grew up in the house of his maternal great-uncle John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Jarvis returned with his family to America in the early 1790s and settled in Philadelphia. As a youth, he frequented the studio of Matthew Pratt before apprenticing with Edward Savage, who taught him engraving and introduced him to other media, including drawing and oil painting. Jarvis started his own career as an engraver in New York City; by 1803 he was working in partnership with Joseph Wood, primarily making miniatures but also painting portraits and taking portrait-profiles using a physionotrace, which traced an exact likeness of a sitter’s features in silhouette. Their partnership dissolved by 1810, and Jarvis moved to Baltimore. In 1813, he returned to New York to undertake the commission that would cement his reputation as a leading portraitist: six full-length commemorative portraits of heroes of the War of 1812 for New York City Hall. Jarvis was a popular figure in New York City intellectual circles; tales of his love of drink and his dissipated lifestyle are legendary.

Made in United States
19th century
Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.