Levi Jones (of Union, NH)
watercolor on paper
22 3/4 in. x 19 7/8 in. (57.79 cm x 50.48 cm)
Gift of Elizabeth Jones,
Much more is known about farmer and tavern keeper Levi Jones (1771-1847) than about the "Mr. Willson" who painted him. Born in Lebanon, Maine, to a family with roots in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Jones served for a number of years (1811-22) as town clerk of nearby Milton and then (1822-24) became Representative to the General Court. It may be that he commissioned this portrait to commemorate his ascension to the latter office. Jones had extensive landholdings in Milton and also kept a tavern on the main road from Portsmouth to Wolfeboro. The sign for his tavern (Currier Museum of Art) survives; it bears the date 1810 and the Masonic emblems of keys, square, and compass. Jones was quite active in the Masonic Order, serving three times as Master of Humane Lodge number 21 (which he helped found). His involvement with the Masons was good business as well as good fellowship; his inn probably functioned as a meeting place for the lodge.
Jones was married twice, first in 1801 to Betsy Plummer of Milton, who died in 1815, and again in 1831, to Sally Wallingford of that town. Their only child, Charles Jones, was born three years later. Jones died at the age of seventy-six, in Milton.
The distinctive features of this watercolor portrait of Levi Jones-the bust-length, three-quarter view format, the facial features (including the nose, shown in profile) delineated with a single stroke of paint, the hair rendered with rhythmic, feathery strokes-are characteristic of a group of portraits attributed to a "Mr. Willson." Willson, known only from his signature on a portrait in the New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, seems to have been active in the 1820s. He was probably from southern New Hampshire, where this and several related portraits attributed to him were found. Willson's clear, linear style was admirably suited to the strong, rugged features of Levi Jones and to his obvious taste for fashion. Jones's brightly patterned vest, pleated stock, and tight-fitting coat with velvet collar are vividly rendered; the stylishness of his apparel, as well as his commanding expression, promote Jones's stature as a leader of his community.
Paul S. D'Ambrosio and Charlotte M. Emans. Folk Art's Many Faces: Portraits in the New York State Historical Association. Cooperstown, NY: New York State Historical Association, 1987. Pp. 162-63.
Robert M. Doty. By Good Hands: New Hampshire Folk Art. Ex. cat. Currier Gallery of Art, 1989. Pp. 2, 7.
1974 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "British Pewter, 1600- 1850." April 1 - 28.
1976 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "Town and Country: American Portraits from the Currier Collection c. 1800-1860." Oct. 16 - Nov. 21.
1989-1990 "By Good Hands: New Hampshire Folk Art." Organized by University Art Galleries at University of New Hampshire and the Currier Gallery of Art. Traveled to: Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, June 23 - Sept. 3, 1989; University Art Galleries, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, Oct. 23 - Dec. 10, 1989; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Dartmouth, NH, March 17 - June 23, 1990.
1995-1997 "American Art from the Currier Gallery of Art." Organized by the Currier Gallery of Art and the American Federation of Arts. Traveled to: Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando, FL, Dec. 3, 1995 - Jan. 28, 1996; Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, FL, Mar. 15 - Apr. 7, 1996; Art Museum of Western Virginia, Roanoke, VA, Aug. 10 - Oct. 13, 1996; The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, TN, Feb. 2 - Mar. 30, 1997; Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA, Apr. 25 - June 22, 1997; Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, July 18 - Sept. 8, 1997, cat. no. 6.
2010 Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH, "From Homer to Hopper: American Watercolor Masterworks from the Currier Museum of Art." March 6 - June 7.
Elizabeth Jones (great-granddaughter of sitter)
Gift to Currier Gallery of Art, 1974
Detail of watermark