The earliest known reference to the painter Francis A. Beckett is an announcement in the San Francisco Bulletin on 29 June 1864 of his arrest for bizarre and violent behavior and his subsequent committal to the Stockton (California) Insane Asylum. The San Francisco African-American newspaper, Elevator, published a description of this asylum on 30 October 1868 and included the following comments: "We saw there an old acquaintance, Mr. Francis Beckett, commonly called Sir Francis. He appears perfectly sane and conversed very rationally. Beckett is quite an artist; the corridor is decorated with a number of paintings executed by him, among which is a striking likeness of General Grant. He is now engaged in a sketch of Sherman's march through Georgia." The paintings mentioned here have not been located; the National Gallery's Blacksmith Shop is Beckett's only work known today.
The United States Census records for Stockton in 1870 list Beckett as aged 37 (therefore born c. 1833), white, born in the West Indies, a painter, and insane. In 1876 his name begins to appear in San Francisco city directories. He is variously listed from 1876 through 1884 as a sign painter, an artist, and a carriage painter. After 1884, no trace of Beckett has been found. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Bell, Philip A. "Stockton." Elevator (30 October 1868): 2.
Chotner, Deborah, with contributions by Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn. American Naive Paintings. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 18.