John Hesselius, the son of the Swedish immigrant artist Gustavus Hesselius (1682-1755), was probably born in Philadelphia. Although it is most likely that he received his first instruction from his father, few of his works show the straightforward realism characteristic of the elder Hesselius. Instead, John Hesselius’s work more often reflects the elegant, genteel, and somewhat flattering style of portraiture that was in demand among the wealthy and fashion‑conscious society that had developed in the middle colonies by the mid‑eighteenth century.
Hesselius’s earliest known works reflect the influence of Robert Feke, a talented native-born painter who was active principally in Newport, Rhode Island but who made painting trips to Philadelphia in 1746 and 1749. Hesselius traveled to Maryland and Virginia in 1750, and a few years after the death of his father in 1755, went on a second trip during which he painted portraits in New Jersey, Delaware, and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. During late 1750s he was clearly influenced of the English born painter John Wollaston, who had arrived in the colonies in 1749 and produced more than three hundred portraits as he traveled along the eastern seaboard. His portrait style, with its emphasis on satins, silks, lace, and ribbons, coupled with refined poses often derived from mezzotint engravings after English portraits of the aristocracy.
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