John Wesley Jarvis was considered the foremost portraitist of his time in New York and also enjoyed a national reputation. He was born in England to an American father of the same name and an English mother related to the Methodist, John Wesley, whose name John Jarvis later added to his own. In about 1785 the family followed the father to Philadelphia, where the children were raised. About 1793 the young John was apprenticed to the engraver Edward Savage (1761-1817), with whom he moved to New York. The following year Jarvis opened his own studio as an engraver and painter. By 1803 he was in partnership with the miniaturist Joseph Wood (c. 1778 -1830). His skills steadily improved over the next five years, until, with the departure of John Trumbull (1756-1843) for England in 1808, his practice as a portraitist greatly expanded. He married in about 1809. In 1810 he set off for Baltimore, beginning a series of winter trips to seek commissions in Southern cities. The success of several important commissions from the City of New York for portraits of heroes of the War of 1812 established him in about 1814 as the city’s leading portraitist. That year he took as his apprentice and assistant HENRY INMAN, who came to eclipse his master in about 1825. Jarvis married for a second time in 1819. A stroke in 1834 ended his career.
William Dunlap, History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States, (1834; 3d ed., rev. and enl., New York: Benjamin Blom, 1965) 2:208-28 § Harold Edward Dickson, John Wesley Jarvis: American Painter, 1780-1840, with a Checklist of His Works (New York: New-York Historical Society, 1949), with bibliography and list of owners § Joseph J. Arpad, "John Wesley Jarvis, James Kirke Paulding, and Colonel Nimrod Wildfire," New York Folklore Quarterly 21 (June 1965): 92-106 § Ernest Rohdenburg, "The Misreported Quidor Court Case," American Art Journal 2 (Spring 1970): 74-80 § Leah Lipton, "William Dunlap, Samuel F. B. Morse, John Wesley Jarvis, and Chester Harding: Their Careers as Itinerant Portrait Painters," American Art Journal 13 (Summer 1981): 34 -50.