(American, 1796 - 1865)
Portrait of Red Jacket, c. 1840
Oil on canvas, 30 3/4 x 25 3/4 inches
Sagoyewatha (or SHAKÓYE:WA:THAˀ; c. 1750 –1830) was born in the Finger Lakes region of what is now New York State. Known as Red Jacket—a name he took after receiving an embroidered coat from the British for wartime services—he was a Seneca chief and famed orator “in the most exalted sense of the term, of great and commanding power.”1
Red Jacket is wearing his peace medal which was a gift from George Washington to commemorate discussions that led to the Treaty of Canandaigua of 1794. The actual medal depicts George Washington and Red Jacket shaking hands. After his death, Red Jacket’s medal decended through two family members and was eventually sold in 1895 to the Buffalo History Museum. The Museum formally repatriated the medal to the Senaca Nation in 2021.
Neagle exhibited an oil study of Red Jacket in 1823 which attracted much attention (and business). While Neagle did produce works from private sittings with Red Jacket, this work is a copy of a work by Charles Bird King. There is a second nearly identical painting by Neagle which was owned by the Atwater Kent in Philadelphia (The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Exhibition of Portraits by John Neagle, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia, 1925, p. 80, illustrated). That work was attributed to Charles Bird King in H.J. Viola, The Indian Legacy of Charles Bird King (Washington, D.C., 1976, p. 141).
1. William Stone, Life and Times of Red-Jacket, Or Sa-go-ye-wat-ha (New York and London, 1841), p. 2
About the Artist
(American, 1796 - 1865)
Of Irish ancestry, John Neagle was born in Boston while his parents, who lived in Philadelphia, were visiting the city. He briefly studied art with the drawing master and artist Pietro Ancora (dates unknown) and worked in his stepfather Lawrence Ennis’s grocery and liquor store until the age of fifteen, when he was apprenticed to a local coach decorator named Thomas Wilson. Neagle decided to become a portraitist and studied with Bass Otis (1784-1861) for about two months before embarking on a rigorous independent study of art. Otis introduced Neagle to the city’s leading artist, Thomas Sully (1783–1872), who became his informal mentor. Neagle worked for a while as a portraitist in Philadelphia and in 1818 unsuccessfully sought work as an itinerant in Lexington, Kentucky, and New Orleans, Louisiana. He returned to Philadelphia, began to exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1821, and during the summer of 1825 studied briefly with Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828) and met Washington Allston (1779–1843) in Boston. Neagle married Sully’s stepdaughter Mary Chester Sully the following year.
Neagle earned a national reputation with his full-length work Pat Lyon at the Forge (1827, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). He excelled in portraits of men and over the years painted portraits of prominent doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and clergymen. These works were admired as forceful, penetrating images that captured the essence of their sitters’ personalities. Neagle often employed iconographic devices that explicated a given subject’s professions or alluded to some significant life experience.