The Cumberland River
ARTIST: Ralph Eleazer Whiteside Earl (1785-1838) was the son of New England painter Ralph Earl (1751-1801). Earl learned the essentials of painting at a young age. He and his father were working together in Connecticut by 1800. Later, at London’s Royal Academy, Earl was introduced to the works of artists such as John Trumbull (1756-1843) and Benjamin West (1738-1820), who influenced him greatly. Earl also traveled to France where studied with Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825).
Upon returning from Europe in 1815, Earl traveled the South painting portraits for an eventual, but unrealized, grand historical painting of the Battle of New Orleans. This project brought Earl into contact with Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson soon became his mentor and patron. In 1818 Earl married Jackson’s niece and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he became a popular portraitist. When Earl’s wife died in 1819, he was invited to live at the Hermitage, Jackson’s Nashville home.
Earl is best known for his many portraits of Andrew Jackson. Many of these portraits were reproduced and circulated as engravings to increase Jackson’s public recognition, and to serve as propaganda for his political candidacy. On his election to the Presidency in 1829, Earl accompanied Jackson to Washington, serving as secretary and public relations adviser during Jackson’s eight-year presidency. Earl’s close relationship with the President led to his reputation as Jackson’s “court painter.” Earl painted portraits of many of Jackson’s aides. In 1837 Jackson and Earl returned to the Hermitage. Earl died the following year.