Wood, Joseph - portrait of a naval officer

Although there is a preference for named sitters, this attractive miniature was acquired from New York as an unidentified naval officer by an unknown artist. It was housed in an out of period daguerreotype case dating to twenty years later. As such it was not an easy miniature to attribute to an artist, especially from an Internet image.

However, on arrival the sky background was found to be somewhat brighter than had been expected which assisted. After side by side comparison with many other examples and searching through reference books it has seemed appropriate to attribute the miniature to Joseph Wood (1778-1840) who worked in New York. On the sitter's right shoulder (i.e. the viewer's left) can be seen a shoulder flash, indicating he was a naval officer, perhaps a Lieutenant?

Wood was the son of a New York farmer and ran away from home at age 15 to New York City where he became apprenticed to a silversmith. He learned to paint by copying miniatures which had been left with the silversmith for mounting. In 1801 he established himself as an oil portrait and miniature painter. In 1803 he was joined in partnership by John Wesley Jarvis (1780-1840) and around that time was also taught more about miniature painting by Edward Greene Malbone (1777-1807). The partnership with Jarvis had ended by 1810 and in 1811 Wood took on Nathaniel Rogers (1787-1844) as an apprentice, before moving to Philadelphia in c1813 and Washington c1816-18. During his last years he became noted for a dissolute lifestyle and undertook few commissions. From this brief outline it is clear his main output as a miniature painter was restricted to about 25 years, 1801-c1825.

Attribution of the miniature to Wood, made it possible to suggest why the case was mismatched. In 2009 I noted the miniature depicted here in a "make-do" ebonised frame, was likely by Joseph Wood when it sold on eBay to another buyer. In this example Wood has made the background made darker, which was necessary in this instance to contrast with the sitter's white hair. As I mentioned in 2009, in my opinion the case for this second miniature, as showing here, was an important example of make-do Embargo casework, dictated by shortages of British casework supplies during the War, as has been discussed elsewhere. It is therefore likely the earlier case for the naval officer fell to pieces and the miniature was rehoused in a daguerreotype case.

The process also resulted in a decision to write a brief research paper on Joseph Wood when it became clear that several miniatures attributed to him were by different artists. The paper demonstrates why the above examples are believed to be by the same artist and can be seen at Discussing Joseph Wood at View 1465

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