American & European Paintings - September 2008
James Earl
(American, 1761–1796)
Portrait of Captain Samuel Goldsbury(1743–1815)
Oil on canvas, 24 × 20 1/4 inches
REFERENCES: Robert G. Stewart, “James Earle: American Painter of Loyalists and His Career in England,” American Art Journal 20 (1988), p. 49, fig. 15.
RS 6464

James Earl was born in Leicester, Massachusetts, the younger brother of the noted portraitist Ralph Earl (1751–1801). Nothing is known of James Earl’s early training. He followed his brother to London sometime during the mid-1780s, began to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1787, and became a student there in 1789. Earl mastered the fashionable British portrait style that was practiced by contemporaries such as John Hoppner (1758–1810), George Romney (1734–1802), and Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792), and enjoyed a successful career in London where his patrons consisted mainly of expatriate American loyalists. He returned to his native country in 1794, settled in Charleston, South Carolina, and painted portraits of the local gentry. He died there of yellow fever.

Samuel Goldsbury (1743–1815), whose last name is sometimes spelled Goldsborough, was born in Wrentham, Massachusetts. A loyalist during the American Revolution, he served as a captain in the British army when it occupied New York City from 1780 to 1783. He also participated in military campaigns in New England and Nova Scotia. For further biographical information on the sitter, see E. Alfred Jones, The Loyalists of Massachusetts, Their Memorials, Petitions, and Claims (London: Saint Catherine Press, 1930), p. 146. According to family history, Goldsbury was host to King George III’s son Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence (known as “the Sailor Prince”), when he visited the city and was entertained by the loyalists. The duke stood as sponsor at the christening of Goldsbury’s twin sons, who were born in New York in 1780.

Earle probably painted this portrait after the Revolution when Goldsbury was in London. This portrait, which remains in its original frame, descended directly through the sitter’s family, who sold it in 1928. It was included in an exhibition of colonial and early American portraits at Ehrich Galleries in New York in April 1906, where it was erroneously attributed to Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827). Robert G. Stewart, a former curator at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., discovered the true identity of the artist when he was preparing his article on James Earle for the American Art Journal.


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