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A lavishly attired gentleman strikes a formal pose in a dark interior enlivened by blue drapery at the right and a window featuring an elaborate volute at the left. His rosy cheeks and the tricorner hat he grasps in his right hand suggest that he has just returned from a sunset stroll. The brown coat sports an unusual scalloped cuff, a style called à la marinière or mariners’ cuff, which was quite fashionable in England from at least the 1730s into the 1760s. The man’s left hand, placed assuredly on his hip, draws this coat back, as if to show off the sumptuous waistcoat and gold watch fob underneath. The waistcoat’s light blue silk is accented by a delicate, loom-woven subpattern and elaborate silver embroidery. Blackburn rendered this clothing in such remarkable detail that he must have worked from actual garments.

Little is known about this handsome portrait except that it was painted by the English-born Joseph Blackburn. The painting’s sitter and place of execution are unidentified, and its estimated date is based on the gentleman’s costume and the work’s relationship to other oils by the enigmatic Blackburn, who worked in Bermuda, New England, and Britain. Supporting the painting’s possible English origin are two facts: its first recorded appearance was in that country around 1956, and it bears a relatively large signature characteristic of Blackburn’s work there. More study is required to remedy the lack of information about this portrait in particular, and Blackburn’s biography more generally.


center left: I: Blackburn Pinx


(John Nicholson Gallery, New York), by 1956.[1] (Charles Childs, Boston); (Miss Eunice Chambers, American Paintings, Hartsville, SC), by 1962; [2] (Osborne Gallery/Tribune Gallery, New York); purchased 31 October 1966 by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.

Exhibition History

Carolina Charter Tercentenary Exhibition, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh,1963, no. 3.
Corcoran [The American Genius]. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1976, unnumbered catalogue.
Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, 2005-2007, checklist no.1.
The American Evolution: A History through Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2008, unpublished checklist.
American Journeys: Visions of Place, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 21 September 2013-28 September 2014, unpublished checklist.


Miles, Ellen G. "Joseph Blackurn, Portrait of a Gentleman." In Corcoran Gallery of Art: American Paintings to 1945. Washington, 2011: 48-49, 254, repro.

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