Elias Ball II
ARTIST: Jeremiah Theus (1716-1774) was born in Switzerland and immigrated to South Carolina with his family came to South Carolina when he was nineteen. His father, Simon Theus received a land grant for 250 acres on the Edisto River in Orangeburg, South Carolina.
Jeremiah Theus was in Charleston and working as an artist by 1740 when he placed an advertisement in the South Carolina Gazette. He wrote that “all Gentlemen and Ladies may have their Pictures drawn, likewise Landskips of all sizes, Crests and Coats of Arms for Coaches and Chaises. Likewise for the Conveniency of those who live in the Country, he is willing to wait on them at their respective Plantations.” Over the next three decades Theus would establish himself as the painter of choice for the Lowcountry elite. It is estimated that more than 170 portraits by Theus survive.
Like most eighteenth-century artists, Theus sometimes relied on English mezzotints to inspire the poses and costume of his sitters. There are a number of works, for example, that use a variation of the dress worn by Maria the Countess of Coventry in a mezzotint by Richard Houston after a painting by Francis Cotes. An example of this print is in the National Portrait Gallery of the United Kingdom. (NPG UK acc. D34175). However, these same mezzotints were also an important mechanism by which London fashion of was transmitted to Charleston. The refinement of dress and pose in Theus’s sitters was a reflection of their status in the larger 18th century material world.
FRAME: The portrait remains in its original mahogany frame. The frame is attributed to the cabinetmaker Thomas Elfe who is known to have made frames for Theus.
RELATED WORKS: MESDA owns two objects related to Elias Ball II: his portrait by Jeremiah Theus (MESDA acc. 2739) and a mahogany tea board he purchased in 1775 from the cabinetmaker Thomas Elfe (MESDA acc. 5709). The Museum also owns a platt of Kensington Plantation drawn by Joseph Purcell following Elias’s death (MESDA acc. 4490.1)
MESDA has five portraits by Theus: Sarah Proctor (Daniell) Willson (MESDA acc. 2024.52); Elias Ball III (MESDA acc. 2739); Humphrey Sommers” (MESDA acc. 3974); Hannah Dart” (MESDA acc. 4087); and Ann (Theus) Lee, the artist’s daughter (MESDA acc. 1179).
REFERENCES: Margaret Simons Middleton, “Jeremiah Theus: Colonial Artist of Charles Town” (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1991)
Carolyn J. Weekley, “Painters and Paintings of the Early American South” (Williamsburg, Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg and the Yale University Press, 2013)
DESCRIPTION: Bust-length painting, oil on canvas, of an older man wearing a grey/blue vest and jacket, and white blouse-shirt underneath. The man is painted in an oval-shaped background. His face directly faces the viewer, but his body is turned toward his right (viewer’s left). There are matching buttons on the jacket, as well as the vest. He has brown eyes and a cleft chin.