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Farmer Jackson, 1830
Ralph EW Earl (1785-1838)

View Artist Bio
Oil on canvas
30 x 25 inches
Status: Private Collection, Florida

This portrait of Andrew Jackson has been on loan to the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, since 1991.  Colloquially called the “Farmer Jackson” portrait since Ralph Earl painted it, this painting and a lithograph created from it are not only distinctive representations of “Old Hickory” but also are rich in the aesthetic, social, and political symbolism of early nineteenth-century America.  In fact, the “Farmer Jackson” painting helped to codify that symbolism and to demonstrate how fine art served as political propaganda in the Age of Jackson. 

Ralph Eleazer Whiteside Earl and his paintings occupy distinctive places in American art history.  Earl was the son of Ralph Earl (1751-1801), a New England-born itinerant portrait painter.  Because he was a Loyalist during the American Revolution the senior Earl left an already-well established portraitist’s career in the United States and settled in London, England, where he studied painting in London with Benjamin West.  While there he wed Ann Whiteside without having divorced his first wife.  The couple returned to America in 1785 or 1786.  Despite a tradition that their son, Ralph Eleazer Whiteside Earl, was born in England in 1785, recent scholarship has determined that he was born either in New York or Massachusetts in late 1788.  The young man lived the life of his parents as an itinerant painter, without having a permanent home until the start of the nineteenth century.  In addition to his youthful experiences as a traveling portrait painter, Earl also benefitted from his father’s training.  By the age of twenty he had begun to make a name for himself as a portrait painter. 

In 1809 Earl traveled to England where he studied painting, as had his father, with Benjamin West and also with John Trumbull.  He remained in England for five years and then spent 1814-1815, studying painting in Paris, where he was deeply influenced by the commanding personality of Napoleon Bonaparte and the art collection the Frenchman had assembled at the Louvre.  He was also exposed to the cult of personality that Napoleon I created for himself with the help of painters Jacques-Louis David, Jean-Antoine Gros, and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.  These artists employed classical Greek and Roman imagery to place the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire into historical and cultural contexts that greatly impressed Earl and John Vanderlyn, his American colleague in Paris. 

Earl returned to America in December 1815 and briefly established himself in Savannah, Georgia, as a portrait painter.  The exciting events of the War of 1812, especially the victory of General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815, led Earl to establish a life-long friendship with “Old Hickory.”  In 1817 Earl traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, and visited Jackson at his plantation home, the Hermitage.  The purpose of his excursion was to explore the possibilities of reproducing in America the nationalistic and history-centered styles of art he had seen in Napoleonic France.  In effect, Earl’s esteem for Andrew Jackson’s military exploits and his interest in the uses of art to create heroic symbols led him to cultivate the general’s society.  Starting with that first visit, Earl found Jackson to be his patron, friend, and object of study for the rest of his life.  From 1817 to his death in 1838, Earl resided at the Hermitage and, from 1831 to 1837, had a studio and lodging in the White House during Jackson’s presidency.  He painted dozens of portraits of Jackson, several of Jackson’s beloved wife Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson (1767-1828), and other Tennessee notables, and assisted in the formation of cultural institutions in Nashville.  In May 1818 he wed Jane Caffery, a niece of Rachel Jackson, who was living at Jackson’s Hermitage plantation.  Sadly, Jane Caffery Earl died in childbirth sometime in February 1818, within a year of their marriage.  Earl never remarried, and his lifelong mourning of his young wife, possibly offered an example of conduct for Jackson himself, who never ceased mourning the death December 1828 death of his beloved Rachel Jackson.  Indeed, Jackson’s refusal to remarry or to set aside his grief for his late wife became part of “Old Hickory’s” history and iconography that Earl helped to create. 

The Earls, father and son, might be considered a minor painting dynasty similar to the Peale family of Philadelphia or the Weirs of New York.  Indeed, Ralph E.W. Earl founded the Nashville Museum in 1818 and was its manager until 1825, an action influenced by the Peale’s Philadelphia Museum.  As did the Peales, John Vanderlyn, and other early nineteenth-century painters, Earl sought to adopt the artistic and cultural practices of the Old World and then to adapt them in order to create a New World American culture.  This broad “American project” united such diverse painters as the Hudson River School, history painters such as Vanderlyn and Robert Weir, and portraitists like Earl and Charles Bird King.  However, because Earl’s career was so tightly linked with Andrew Jackson, his work has often been perceived as limited in vision and derivative in execution.  A dispassionate examination of the many Jackson portraits and portraits of early nineteenth-century American politicians, in fact reveals that Earl was consciously part of the creation of social, political, and aesthetic imagery of the American Republic.  James G. Barber’s Andrew Jackson, A Portrait Study, published in 1991, initiated this “dispassionate’ examination but the most recent and most comprehensive examination of Earl’s life and career and impact upon the visual arts in the United States is Rachel Elizabeth Stephens’ “America’s Portraitist:  Ralph E.W. Earl and the Imaging of Jacksonian America,” a 2010 doctoral dissertation from the University of Iowa.  Her revised dissertation will be published by the University of South Carolina Press in June 2018 with the title Selling Andrew Jackson: Ralph E.W. Earl and the Politics of Portraiture.  Stephens’ research has corrected basic genealogical information regarding the Earls and has placed Earl’s portraits within a long European and even American portrait-painting tradition.   More importantly, Stephens has described the ways in which the personalities and even careers of Jackson and Earl mutually influenced the two very different men.  An investigation of the 1830 “Farmer Jackson” portrait and the lithograph created from it are examples of this mutual influence that collectively had a powerful impact upon nineteenth-century American art.

Circa 1833 Earl painted a second version of his “Farmer Jackson” portrait.  This version of the painting appears to have been unknown prior to James Barber’s 1991 study of the art and political iconography in his Andrew Jackson, A Portrait Study.  The circumstances of its creation and some of the differences between the two versions provide more evidence of the ways that Earl and Jackson collaborated to shape public opinion regarding the seventh president of the United States.

Ralph Earl painted his first “Farmer Jackson” portrait in 1830.  Its dimensions are 30 by 25 inches.  It is privately owned but has been on loan to the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, with the accession number L/NPG.5.2013.  Unlike most of Earl’s images of Jackson and other personalities of the era, this portrait was probably not a commissioned work but the fruit of a spontaneous inspiration by Earl to depict the president full-length and in civilian dress amid an idealized agricultural landscape that included the Hermitage mansion and other distinguishing landmarks.  Jackson is situated in a natural surrounding that is neither the untouched Nature of the Garden of Eden nor the wild, untamed Nature of the vast American continent.  Jackson’s plantation and, indeed, Earl’s vision of Nature in his Farmer Jackson paintings is a world shaped by human agency into productive agricultural fields and pastures for domestic animals.  The paintings reveal horizons that include forests, ponds, the master’s home, and his monument to his deceased wife.  Since the War of Independence, American citizens were building New World social and cultural values that extolled political independence, simple manners, and agricultural enterprise but which preserved enough Old World traditions to recognize heroes like Jackson and build monuments to the beloved dead. 

Earl assembled images of fields under cultivation, a farm pond, the Hermitage plantation home and several outbuildings, and Rachel Jackson’s tomb to provide a theatrical backdrop for the portrait of the man.  Presented full-length and standing near a tall tree, Jackson wears a familiar black cloak and holds in his right hand two other powerful visual images:  a white beaver hat with a black band of mourning for his late wife and a cherry wood cane.  During the 1830s Jackson’s hat and cane were so closely identified with him that they became independent symbols of his public life.  Both were depicted in many later portraits and even in a wooden statue carved by William Rumney, circa 1860.  Jackson never removed the mourning band from his hat, a fact not lost on those who met him in life and viewed his many artistic representations.  The hat and the permanent mourning for Rachel Jackson soon became symbols of them.   

Although the painting is relatively small, its scale, the subject’s apparel, and posture combine to depict a masterful plantation owner, leader of the Democratic Party, and popular chief executive of the nation.  In 1835 the first Farmer Jackson portrait was owned by Francis Preston Blair (1791-1876), a Democratic Party boss and publisher of the Washington Globe, the newspaper political organ of the Jackson administration and the Democratic Party. 

In her primary source research, Rachel Stephens discovered that Earl spent some time in 1832 at work on a full-size portrait based upon his first Farmer Jackson portrait.  Apparently that work was not completed and no studies survive.  However, Earl later created another full-length portrait of Jackson that is well-known as the “Tennessee Gentleman” (Stephens, 236).  Another plausible theory on the “other” full-length portrait is that the work in question was the second version of the “Farmer Jackson” portrait.  That second version will be described after a discussion of the print history of Earl’s 1830 “Farmer Jackson” portrait.

Earl crafted all of his Jackson portraits with a sharp eye to managing contemporaneous opinion and also Jackson’s legacy but he expended greater effort to that end in his full-length works.  His efforts were successful.  Soon after the first Farmer Jackson was painted John Henry Bufford (1810-70), an employee of the Pendleton Company of Boston, Massachusetts, contracted with Earl to reproduce and publish for sale a lithograph based upon the portrait.  Bufford worked on creating the lithographic version during 1831 with the aim to publish the print in time to serve as political propaganda and to capture a market excited by the forthcoming 1832 presidential election.   A comparison of the print with the portrait reveals some variations, most based upon the differences in the media used for creating the image.  The limbs and leaves of vine-embraced tree on right of the print are more elaborate; Jackson’s face is smoother and more youthful; and the background is both simplified and more sharply delineated than in the painting.  More significantly, Jackson’s left arm and hand are clearly more visible in the print than in the painting.  Closer examination of the original painting and a cleaning might reveal the left arm and hand but most reproductions of the painting make difficult to verify their appearance.  In Bufford’s print, Jackson’s arm and hand are clearly visible and the president is holding a pair of gloves in his left hand.

The Bufford print was intended to disseminate to the American public an image of President Jackson distinctly different from popular representations as a military officer and Democratic Party boss.  Serene at home and master of the domestic and agricultural environment depicted in the background, Farmer Jackson was a distinguished individual but one sprung from the people, a southern planter, and a wise leader.  The images helped link Jackson to the soldier-citizen image of General George Washington of Mount Vernon, Virginia.  Just as Washington had been depicted in word and picture as a military and distinguished president, he was also a gentleman planter and enlightened steward of his fields, flocks, and vineyards.  Within the imagined world of Earl’s Farmer Jackson paintings and Bufford’s print Jackson seemed to be fully an heir to George Washington’s legacy.   The lithograph proved successful as a commercial venture and as a tool to shape public opinion of the president.  The print was published in the summer of 1832 and was a visual mainstay of the president’s re-election campaign. 

Influenced by the success of the lithograph and likely familiar with the original painting, Joseph Hemphill (1770-1842), a Philadelphia lawyer and a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives, commissioned Earl to paint a copy of the Farmer Jackson portrait for him.  The second portrait is the chief subject of this essay.  Although the painting is undated it was likely completed during 1833.  It is slightly smaller (24 x 20 inches) than the first version and it bears several variations from it.  Among the most obvious variations are the addition of three horses in the middle background; absence of Jackson’s spectacles; and depiction of the subject’s left hand, holding a pair of gloves.  The background sky is considerably darker and the tree at Jackson’s left lacks an entwining grapevine that was a notable feature of the first version.  The Hermitage house is more clearly visible but the outbuildings are less clear because Jackson’s body has been shifted somewhat off-center and toward the right edge of the painting.  Rachel Jackson’s tomb with its columns and dome is clearly visible, providing evidence that the painting had been executed after 1832, when the dome was erected over her tomb.  The temple structure is depicted in the Bufford lithograph.  Finally, an examination by conservators of the first portrait reveals that Earl retouched the first painting by adding the dome to it.  Such attention to this element is important because it reveals Jackson’s sincere, deep, and persistent affection for his beloved Rachel.  Jackson’s signature white beaver hat with its black mourning band is in the collections of the Tennessee Historical Society.  

Hemphill’s reason for commissioning the painting is a matter of speculation.  However, in addition to his political support of Jackson, Hemphill had in 1832 purchased and become owner of the Tucker China Factory of Philadelphia, a company that was one of the first large commercial porcelain-makers in the United States.  Among the many porcelain products the Tucker Company produced were commemorative historical objects that bore portraits of distinguished Americans and depictions of important historical events in the history of the young nation.  Among the company’s products were at least two objects—vases and teacups—that bore images of Andrew Jackson.  Research continues on the connections between Earl and Hemphill and his company but it is known that Hemphill communicated with Jackson’s close friend, John H. Eaton on May 21, 1833, seeking to obtain a copy of Earl’s Farmer Jackson painting and had been directed to James B. Longacre’s plans to reproduce the painting or part of it as an engraving in Longacre’s National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans.  Eaton stated in his letter that he had Earl’s painting in front of him and described it as containing the tell-tale horses in the foreground.  The Tucker Company never issued any products with a “Farmer Jackson” reproduction but the vase and teacups bear images derived from one of Earl’s bust portraits.  The issuance of mass-produced porcelain products bearing images of distinguished Americans was certainly one element of the creation of a shared public political culture—and an example of iconographic propaganda. 

It is highly informative that the two Farmer Jackson portraits were so productive of other portraits and engravings.  Earl painted at least two bust portraits derived from the Farmer Jackson portraits.  One depicts Jackson wearing glasses and another without them.   Finally, Earl painted another version of his full-length portrait likely in the mid-1830s, which is called the “Tennessee Gentleman.”  In it, Jackson wears his beaver hat and a long coat and wields his cane.  The Hermitage appears in the background as it existed prior to its renovation and expansion in 1831-32.  In 1860 the “Tennessee Gentleman” was engraved by Henry B. Hall (1808-84) and published by his company H. B. Hall of New York City.  Other examples of the use of reproductions of Earl’s “Farmer Jackson” image are found in John S. Jenkins’s Life and Public Services of Gen. Andrew Jackson (1850) and Arthur S. Colyer’s Life and Times of Andrew Jackson (1904).  The frontispieces of these two biographies, published fifty years apart, kept Earl’s “Farmer Jackson” portrait in the public mind as one of the best-known depictions of “Old Hickory.”

Ralph Earl’s Farmer Jackson paintings reflected a popular method of depicting distinguished individuals in the outdoors, surrounded by some depiction of Nature—whether stormy, tranquil, cultivated by the hand of man, or sublimely untouched by humanity.  The British painters Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Thomas Lawrence had used that method to heighten the prestige of the subject.  Ralph Earl, senior, and his son had studied in England and been exposed to the portrait techniques of these British portraitists.  Ralph E.W. Earl had also benefitted by his year of Paris training at a time when French painters were at work creating an imperial and martial imagery with which to depict Emperor Napoleon I and his pan-European court.  This observation is somewhat speculative but, closer to home in the United States and more immediately relevant to American political symbolism, some painting traditions were at hand for Earl to use in his Farmer Jackson portraits.  One example of a depiction of Americans outdoors and exercising mastery over Nature and servants is the anonymous painting of Benjamin Hawkins (1754-1816), the North Carolina statesman who was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs by President George Washington.  Hawkins is surrounded in the painting by images of successful plantation agriculture and by Creek Indians whom he is instructing in modern farming techniques.  The overall effect of the painting is the white man’s easy mastery of Nature and subordinate population. 

Prior to the American Civil War it could be argued that George Washington, the man and statesman, was the chief symbol of the American Republic.  In the mid-nineteenth century the painter Junius Brutus Stearns (1810-85) created five paintings of President George Washington, each of which depicted the first president as a statesman, patriot, and famous Virginia planter.  One of the series is “Washington as a Farmer at Mount Vernon,” painted in 1851, is in the collections of the Mount Vernon ladies Association.  In the painting, Washington stands amid images of productive plantation agriculture and securely in command of his enslaved labor force.  Again, the overall theme of the painting is complete, benevolent mastery.  

Consideration of the George Washington iconographic legacy as an inspiration for Earl’s “Farmer Jackson” portrait points in another direction, as yet untested by an examination of the wealth of letters, diaries, publications, and images of Andrew Jackson:  that of the seventh president as a second-generation American Cincinnatus.  In Roman history Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (ca. 519‒430BCE) was a Roman patricianstatesman, and military leader of the early Republic who became a legendary figure of Roman virtues—particularly Roman manliness and civic virtue—by the time of the Empire. Called upon twice by to lead armies and rescue the republic, Cincinnatus left his farm and led the armies to victory.  In gratitude the Roman people offered him a dictatorship but he refused the offer of great political power and returned to his farm.  Toward the end of the American War of Independence, George Washington and the officers of the Continental Army established the military organization called the Society of the Cincinnati of the United States, a hereditary institution of original members and direct descendants of the officers of the Continental Army.   When it was founded and as it continues today, the Society of the Cincinnati exists to sustain a brotherhood of patriotic citizens, many of whom are military veterans, and to promote republicanism in the new nation.  They chose the name specifically to link their institution to the example of Cincinnatus and their own careers as a citizen-soldiers, not members of an Old World aristocratic officer class.  The Society of the Cincinnati remains today one of the foremost patriotic organizations in the United States.  While Andrew Jackson was a youth during the American Revolution, he was wounded by a British officer and his brother Hugh Jackson was killed at the Battle of Stono Ferry, South Carolina, on June 20, 1779.  Both to commemorate the young man’s service and suffering, the Society of the State of New York made Andrew Jackson an honorary member of the Society on February 24, 1819.  The iconography of the citizen-soldier quickly took hold from the example of George Washington’s role in the Society and by example of his historic 1791 Farwell Speech to the Nation. With respect to Earl’s use of the citizen-soldier iconography, his “Farmer Jackson” portrait embodies strongly the image of a former military hero who has retired to his estate at Hermitage, Tennessee, but stood always ready to serve his nation as a civilian, specifically as the recently-elected seventh President of the United States.  In an allusion to the identification of Andrew Jackson with the citizen-soldier Cincinnatus and the image in American history, a recent biographer, H. W. Brands titled Chapter Five of his recent biography of Jackson simply “Cincinnatus.”

A third source of imagery found in Earl’s paintings is linked to the 1824-25 tour of the Marquis de Lafayette throughout the United States.  Artists, journalists, local politicians, and patriotic organizations discovered that Lafayette’s tour was a great opportunity to create visual arts and literature.  The “hero of Two Worlds,” as Lafayette was called as he toured the United States visited Nashville and the Hermitage in May 1825.  There he met Jackson and Ralph E.W. Earl.  The French painter Ary Sheffer (1795-1858) had painted a full-length portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette in 1819.  It depicts Lafayette outdoors amid a romantic landscape and holding his right hand his hat and walking stick.  Sheffer gave the painting to the United States House of Representatives in 1824.  The painting was available for Earl to examine in Washington during his visits with Jackson to the capital city.  Matthew Harris Jouett (1788-1827), the youthful Kentucky painter met Lafayette in Washington and examined the Sheffer portrait.  Because Lafayette was intending to visit the state during his tour, the Kentucky legislature commissioned him to paint a similar portrait.  Jouett’s full-length portrait captures the sense of a masterful civilian, not connected to the military, outside in nature, and equipped with hat and cane in hand.


Barber, James G.  Old Hickory, A Life Sketch of Andrew Jackson.  Seattle and London:

University of Washington Press, 1990.

————.   Andrew Jackson, A Portrait Study.  Seattle and London:  University of Washington

Press, 1991.

Brands, H.W. Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times. New York: Doubleday. 2005.

Bumgardner, Georgia Brady.  “Political Portraiture: Two Prints of Andrew Jackson.” American

Art Journal 18, no. 4 (Autumn 1986): 84‒96.

Colyer, Arthur S. Life and Times of Andrew Jackson.  Soldier—Statesman—President. Three

Volumes. Nashville, TN:  Marshall & Bruce. 1904.

https://library.whitehousehistory.org/fotoweb/archives/5017-Digital-Library/Main%20Index/Decorative%20Arts/749.tif.info (re: Andrew Jackson Vase by Tucker & Hemphill Company).  Accessed May 15, 2018.

Jenkins, John S. Life and Public Services of Gen. Andrew Jackson . . . . New York: 1850.

Stephens, Rachel Elizabeth.  “America’s Portraitist:  Ralph E.W. Earl and the Imaging of the
                Jacksonian Era.”  Doctoral dissertation.  University of Iowa, 2010.

WWW.nycincinnati.org/HonoraryMembers.htm.  Accessed May 15, 2018.

This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.

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