ARTIST: John Hesselius (1728-1778) was one of the major American-born artists working in the Middle Colonies and the South in the third quarter of the eighteenth century. The son of Gustavus Hesselius (1682-1755), a Swedish painter who came to America in 1711, John was probably born in Philadelphia. His earliest signed work is dated 1750. It is thought to depict Millicent Conway Gordon (b.1725) of Lancaster County, Virginia. It is in the collection of the Virginia Historical Society (1984.4). Hesselius latest signed work dates to 1777.
During his career, Hesselius traveled extensively in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and possibly in New Jersey. His work seems to have been confined to portraits. All known examples are in oil on canvas, and there is little reason to suspect that he deviated from this practice. He worked exclusively in the late English Baroque and English Rococo traditions of painting, and his style shows the influence of Robert Feke and John Wollaston more strongly than that of his father.
Hesselius married Mary Young Woodward, the widow of Henry Woodward, in 1763, and after that date his energies were divided between his art and the management of his plantation near Annapolis, Maryland. He was also active in the religious affairs of St. Anne’s Parish in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. His interests appear to have been many, and as an artist and landowner he associated with most of the leading citizens of the colony. Hesselius contributed to American painting, and he extended and modified the English tradition of painting in the Colonies.
PLACE MADE: It was said that Strawberry Hill was “one of the most beautiful places near Chesapeake Bay, commanding an extensive in land view and out over Kent Island and to the Eastern Shore, and far up and down the Bay and the Severn River.” The house stood near the site of the present Naval Hospital and Cemetery within the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy.
RELATED WORKS: Part of an extensive family commission that includes: his grandmother, Mrs. Richard Galloway at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA acc. 22.206); mother Mrs. Thomas Sprigg at the Art Institute of Chicago (1967.173); father Thomas Sprigg at the North Carolina Museum of Art (GL.63.33.1); and wife Margaret Caile at the Newark Museum (55.119).
FRAME: Contemporary, but not original.
REFERENCES: Janine Yorimoto Boldt, “More than Just a Pretty Face: Reconsidering John Hesselius” (MESDA Summer Institute 2016).
DESCRIPTION: Painting, oil on canvas, of Richard Sprigg of Strawberry Hill, Maryland. Young man facing forward, his body is slightly to the right, his left hand in his vest, wearing a dark beige coat and light silk vest, with white stock. He has a ruddy complexion, dark eyes, brown hair. The background varies from greenish-gray to the lower right to very dark gray in upper left and has lunettes in the corners.