(American born Portugal, 1808 - 1865)
Although Manuel Jaochim de França was a prominent portraitist who secured numerous commissions in Philadelphia throughout the 1830s and early 1840s, little is known about his career.¹ He was born in Portugal, the eldest son of a wealthy wine merchant, and studied at the Art Academy in Lisbon. Probably fleeing political turmoil following the death of King John IV in 1826, the young artist immigrated to the United States and settled in Philadelphia. De França established a studio at the northeast corner of Sixth and Spruce streets and exhibited several portraits at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1830. He soon befriended Philadelphia’s senior portrait painter, Thomas Sully (1783-1872), and other prominent artists such as John Neagle (1796-1865), Joshua Shaw (c.1777-1860), and the engraver John Sartain (1808-1897).² Like his associates, de França was a proponent of artists’ rights and became one of the founders of the Artists’ Fund Society in 1835; he exhibited sporadically with the group until 1844. De França also exhibited at both the Apollo Association and the National Academy of Design in New York City (1838-41). De França married and in 1842 moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he painted altarpieces for churches. About two years later, possibly after traveling in Kentucky and Tennessee, he settled in St. Louis, Missouri. De França embarked on an extremely successful career there, ultimately becoming the city’s most popular portraitist. In 1859 he became one of the founders of the Western Academy of Art, the first art institution west of the Mississippi River; the following year he exhibited seventeen paintings in the group’s first annual exhibition. De França’s declining health forced him into semiretirement, and he died in St. Louis on August 22, 1865. Notes 1. The most extensive biography of the artist is Karen McCoskey Goering, “Manuel de Franca: St. Louis Portrait Painter,” Gateway Heritage: Quarterly Journal of the Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, vol. 3, no. 3 (winter 1982-83), pp. 30-35. The largest concentration of his portraits is owned by the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis. 2. The earliest source of information on de França is John Sartain, Reminiscences of a Very Old Man (New York; D. Appleton and Co., 1899), p. 143.