ARTIST: William Joseph Williams was born in New York City in 1759, and was a nephew of the painter John Mare (1739-1802/3) who worked in New York, New England, and North Carolina. Williams was trained in New York—perhaps by Mare—and his earliest known works are dated 1783 from that city. Although it is known that he worked in oil, all of his surviving works are pastel on paper.
Williams pursued a life-long career as an itinerant painter, living and working in Edenton, North Carolina (1785), Virginia (1793), Philadelphia (1796), Georgetown, District of Columbia (1798), Charleston, South Carolina (1801-1804), New Bern, North Carolina (1804-1807), and New York City (1807-1817).
In Edenton in 1785 he lived in the household of his uncle, John Mare, where he drew portraits of, among others, the Reverend Charles Pettigrew and his wife Mary Blount Pettigrew (MESDA acc. 3332, 3333). In Virginia in 1793-94 he spent time in Culpeper County, where he drew portraits of Colonel John Jameson, his wife Elizabeth (Davenport) Jameson, and her father Birkett Davenport (MESDA acc. 2961.1-3)
He concluded his life as an itinerant artist in New Bern, North Carolina, where he worked and taught at the New Bern Academy. In 1821 he converted to Roman Catholicism with his family and added the middle name Joseph. He died in New Bern in 1822.
RELATED WORKS: MESDA has three Jameson-Davenport family portraits by William Joseph Williams: portraits of Colonel John Jameson, his wife Elizabeth (Davenport) Jameson, and her father Birkett Davenport (MESDA acc. 2961.1-3). MESDA owns another later portrait of Colonel John Jamison by the French-born artist Francis Cezeron (MESDA Acc. No. 3229.1).
MESDA also has two additional pastel portraits by Williams: portraits of the Reverend Charles Pettigrew and his wife Mary Blount Pettigrew (MESDA acc. 3332, 3333) done in Edenton, North Carolina, in 1785.
COMPARISON: Compared with the portraits of the Pettigrews (MESDA acc. 3332, 3333), this pastel shows a less sophisticated handling of the chalks. Notice the lack of background coloring, giving no sense of depth to the face lines. Eyes are well-drawn, but the body is not well defined. Shadows are shallow and indicate light from the upper left.
DESCRIPTION: Portrait, pastel on paper, of grey haired man with brown eyes. He wears a grey jacket with a white stock. The jacket has grey buttons. There is a brown and grey background. An oval frame has been drawn to surround the man, and a rectangular frame otherwise surrounds the oval frame. This work is rather flat in appearance and seems to lack depth of field.