Jonathan Simpson (1711-1795)

Joseph Blackburn, English, active 1752 - 1778, active in North America, 1754 - 176


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Oil on canvas

Overall: 50 1/2 × 40 3/8 in. (128.3 × 102.6 cm)

Frame: 58 × 48 1/2 in. (147.3 × 123.2 cm)

Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth: Purchased through gifts from the Lathrop Fellows, a gift from W. David Dance, Class of 1940 in memory of Jane Dance, and through the Mrs. Harvey P. Hood W'18 Fund, the Florence and Lansing Porter Moore 1937 Fund, the Katharine T. and Merrill G. Beede 1929 Fund, the Class of 1935 Memorial Fund, the Julia L. Whittier Fund, and the Phyllis and Bertram Geller 1937 Memorial Fund



Place Made: United States, North America



Object Name


Research Area


On view


Signed, dated, and inscribed (at center left): J. Blackburn Pinxit 1758.; inscribed in ink on old paper label with torn edges [removed and adhered to new foamcore backing]: Blackbur / Born 1700 p[. . . ] / came from Engl[ . . .]/ painted many / notable people / in the U.S.- / Copley was his / pupil -- / very little known / about Blackburn / he returned to Eng. / it was said he / [w]as very jealous / [of] Copley; inscribed in ink on old paper label, now in fragments and adhered to foamcore backing: Blackburn delin /[Jonath]an Simpson Esq. Mercht Boston / [Uncle o]f Mary Holyoke 2 wife of Dct E Aug / died at Bristol in G. B. 1795; typed on old brown paper label adhered to foamcore backing: PATENT 1971533; inscribed, in ink, on twentieth-century red-bordered gum label upper left of frame reverse: Property of / Edward H. Osgood / Jonathan Simpson / by / Joseph Blackburn; numbered, in ink, on white tape below gummed label: 132,524.1: printed gallery label adhered to foamcore backing: Hirschl & Adler / Galleries, Inc. / 21 East 70th Street, New York, N.Y. 10021 / Phone (212)535-8810 Fax (212)722-7232 / / computer-printed on lower portion of label: ARTIST: JOSEPH BLACKBURN / 1700?-1763 / NUMBER: APG 8688 / TITLE: Portrait of Jonathan Simpson / MEDIUM: Oil on canvas / SIZE: 50 ½ x 40 3/8 inches / DATE: 1758


Jonathan Simpson (1711/12–1795) succeeded his father as a Boston storekeeper—primarily of hardware—and in 1754 married Margaret Lechmere (1719–1778). Simpson may have commissioned this portrait to mark his enhanced social status after this marriage four years earlier into one of Boston’s most prominent families.

British painter Joseph Blackburn provided a pivotally important example of the British rococo to colonial America, where he worked from 1754 to 1762. In contrast to some of his earlier work in the colonies, this portrait retains only vestiges of the decorative rococo style. He presents Simpson in a more natural stance and within a composition that includes little adornment beyond the sumptuous fabric of Simpson’s beautifully tailored satin suit—the most obvious marker of his wealth. He also wears a powdered wig and holds a tri-cornered hat, both fashionable accessories sported by the upper classes. The waistcoat’s open button at the chest reflects another fashion convention, one that enabled a gentleman to rest one hand over his breast in a gesture of leisure. With his direct gaze and slight smile, Simpson conveys a stately yet pleasant aura of confidence and ease.

From the 2019 exhibition American Art, Colonial to Modern, curated by Barbara J. MacAdam, Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art


Jonathan Simpson’s brown suit signified his wealth. Satiny silk thread from China was exported to London, where it was woven into fabric shipped to Boston. Here, the fabric was sewn into the suit seen in this portrait. The extra wide cuffs at his wrists, an ostentatious accessory, demonstrated his ability to purchase more fabric than needed.

The artist, Joseph Blackburn, was trained in London and came to the Massachusetts Colony by way of Bermuda, where he had painted a number of the island’s enslaving elite. His portraits, like those of his contemporaries, relied on a “portrait formula.” Similar hairstyles, wigs, and poses appear across his portraits and those of his contemporaries. Blackburn’s portraits are originals, but they rely upon a formula of mass-production that established a shared visual culture of whiteness. The portrait itself, as well as the suit in the painting, were luxury goods that proclaimed the sitters’ elite status.

From the 2023 exhibition Liquidity: Art, Commodities, and Water, curated by Michael Hartman, Jonathan Little Cohen Associate Curator of American Art

Course History

HIST 9.1, Empires and Colonies in North America, Paul Musselwhite, Fall 2014

HIST 9.01, America: From Invasion to Independence, Paul Musselwhite, Fall 2019

HIST 5.14, Americas: Invasion to Independence, Paul Musselwhite and Ernesto Mercadeo-Montero, Fall 2022

First Year Student Enrichment Program - Cultures, Identities and Belongings, Francine A'Ness, Summer 2023

Anthropology 55.01, Anthropology of Global Health, Anne Sosin, Fall 2023

Anthropology 55.01, Anthropology of Global Health, Anne Sosin, Fall 2023

Art History 40.01, American Art and Identity, Mary Coffey, Fall 2023

Creative Writing 10.02, Writing and Reading Fiction, Katherine Crouch, Fall 2023

Geography 11.01, Qualitative Methods, Emma Colven, Fall 2023

Geography 2.01, Introduction to Human Geography, Coleen Fox, Fall 2023

Geography 31.01, Postcolonial Geographies, Erin Collins, Fall 2023

English 30.01, African and African American Studies 34.01, Early Black American LIterature, Michael Chaney, Winter 2024

Writing 5.06, Image and Text, Becky Clark, Winter 2024

Writing 5.07, Image and Text, Becky Clark, Winter 2024

Exhibition History

American Art, Colonial to Modern, Israel Sack Gallery and Rush Family Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 26-July 21, 2019.

Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire, March 17, 2016-June 30, 2018.

Israel Sack Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, July 18, 2013.

Israel Sack Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, March 2, 2009-November 10, 2010.

Liquidity: Art, Commodities, and Water, Israel Sack Gallery and the Rush Family Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, July 29, 2023-June 16, 2024.

Publication History

Recorded: George Francis Dow, The Holyoke Diaries (1911), facing p. 95 illus., owned by Robert Osgood, mistakenly identified as Jonathan Simpson, Jr. (1750-1834), and attributed to John Singleton Copley.

Lawrence Park, "Joseph Blackburn: Portrait Painter," American Antiquarian Society (October 1922), pp. 315-16 no. 65.

Lawrence Park, Joseph Blackburn, A Colonial Portrait Painter, With a Descriptive List of His Works (1923), no. 65, owned by Robert Osgood.

Theodore Bolton and Henry Lorin Binsse, "An American Artist of Formula: Joseph Blackburn," The Antiquarian XV (November 1930), p. 92, owned by Edward H. Osgood.

Charles Henry Collins Baker, "Notes on Joseph Blackburn and Nathaniel Dance," The Huntington Library Quarterly IX (November 1945), p. 41.

American Paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1969), I, p. 34, owned by Edward H. Osgood.


Jonathan Simpson (1711-1795), Boston; to his neice Mary (Vial) Holyoke (1736/9-1802), Salem, Massachusetts; to her husband Dr. Augustus Holyoke Simpson (1728-1829), Salem, Massachusetts; by descent to his daughter, Susanna (Holyoke) Ward (b. 1779), Salem, Massachusetts; by descent to her daughter, Mary Holyoke Ward (1800-1880); [probably] by descent to her brother-in-law, Charles Osgood (1809-1890), Salem, Massachusetts; by descent to his son, Charles Stuart Osgood (1839-1897), Salem, Massachusetts; by descent to his son, Robert Ward Osgood (b. 1870/1), Salem Massachusetts; by descent to his brother, Edward Holyoke Osgood (1882-1952); by descent to his son, Edward Holyoke Osgood (1916-2007), Hamilton, Massachusetts, until 2007; Northeast Auctions, Manchester, New Hampshire Annual Summer Americana Auction, Part 1," lot 1649; sold to Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, New York; sold to present collection, 2007.

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