Collections › MESDA Collection › Tobias Gibson

Tobias Gibson

Jouett, Matthew Harris
Place Made:
Kentucky United States of America
Date Made:
oil on panel
H: 37 ¾ W: 32 3/8”
Accession Number:
SITTER: Tobias Gibson (1800-1872) was a wealthy sugar and cotton planter in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. He was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, to Harriet (McKinley) Gibson (1771-1837) and Reverend Tobias Gibson (1766-1836), a methodist minister from Marion County, South Carolina. Among the earliest anglo-American settlers in Mississippi, the family was well placed to benefit from the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Educated in Lexington, Kentucky, Tobias married Louisiana Breckinridge Hart (1803-1851) in Kentucky in 1827. Two years later he began buying property in Terrebonne Parish Louisiana. In addition to Greenwood, Magnolia, Hollywood, and Live Oak Plantations in Louisiana, the family also owned a mansion in Lexington that they used as a summer home. Prior to the Civil War Gibson enslaved more than 300 people and his real estate and personal property were valued at more than $500,000.

Tobias and Louisiana Gibson provide a good illustration of the close connections between Kentucky and Louisiana during the antebellum period.

ARTIST: Matthew Harris Jouett (1788-1827) was the third child of Captain John (Jack) Jouett, Jr., (1754-1822) and Sallie Robards (1756-1814) of Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Jouett showed artistic ability at an early age. It has been speculated that he may have studied painting at Transylvania University, since there are extant paintings of his classmates there. After college, he read law.

In 1812, he married Margaret (Peggy) Henderson Allen (1795-1873). He fought in the War of 1812, serving finally as a captain, and incurring a debt of $6,000 because of a lost payroll for which he took personal responsibility. By 1815 he had achieved a reputation as an artist, earning as much as twenty-five dollars per portrait. The next year he traveled to Boston for instruction with Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). His paintings reflect the teachings of Stuart who advised Jouett to paint people as they were, not as they wished to be seen. He also adopted some of Stuart’s techniques, especially the use of “standing white” paint. “Standing white” is a technique where turpentine is added to white paint to give strong highlights to white clothing.

Jouett was generous towards young artists who came to him for assistance or tutelage and had a major impact on early Kentucky portraiture. Still, he remained generous towards young artists who came to him for assistance or tutelage. His studio in Lexington became a hub for Bluegrass artists. Though Jouett traveled, including a trip to the studio of Thomas Sully in Philadelphia, he did not pursue an itinerancy. He remained a resident of Lexington, Kentucky, until his death at age 39.

FRAME: Attributed to James McInsosh, Lexington, Kentucky.

Credit Line:
Loan courtesy of Mack and Sharon Cox