Joseph Blackburn, also known as Jonathan Blackburn, (died 1787) was an English portrait painter who worked mainly in Bermuda and in colonial America. His notable works include portraits of Hugh Jones (circa 1777) and Colonel Theodore Atkinson (circa 1760).
He seems to have been the son of a painter, and to have had a studio in Boston in 1750-1765; among his patrons were many important early American families, including the Apthorps, Amorys, Bulfinches, Lowells, Ewings, Saltonstalls, Winthrops, Winslows and Otises of Boston. Blackburn spent time in Bermuda (1752-1753), Newport (1754), Boston (1755-1758), and Portsmouth (1758-1762). In late 1763 he returned to London and painted portraits in southwestern England, Wales, and Dublin between 1768 and 1777. Approximately one hundred fifty of Blackburn's portraits survive. He excelled at painting textiles (i.e., representing the shimmer of silks, the texture of laces, and the folds of fabrics).
Some of his portraits are in the possession of the public library of Lexington, Massachusetts, and of the Massachusetts Historical Society, but most of them are privately owned and are scattered over the country, the majority being in Boston. One portrait, of Elizabeth Browne Rogers completed in 1761, is part of the permanent American art collection at Reynolda House Museum of American Art located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
John Singleton Copley was Blackburn's pupil, and it is said that he finally left his studio in Boston, through jealousy of Copley's superior success. His pictures were long attributed to Copley.
"Now, thanks to evidence found within records held in our collections, we are able to confirm that Joseph Blackburn lived and died in the city of Worcester. He and his family lived in Broad Street in the parish of St. Nicholas. The exact date they moved there is unclear, but he certainly is a resident in 1768. They also leased properties around St. Martins Gate in the city, including The White Horse pub. Joseph inherited the lease for the properties after his father, Joseph Blackburn, gentleman, of Kinfare, (now Kinver), Staffordshire, and possibly his aunt, Henrietta Blackburn of Worcester died in 1759.
"The 1759 will of Henrietta mentions Joseph's wife Mary and their two daughters, Henrietta and Elizabeth. His daughters both married local men: Henrietta to William Hill and Elizabeth to George Squire, but both women appear to have died without children. ..."
There is a degree of confusion about the dates of birth and death of Blackburn. The most common suggestion for year of death is 1778 (see for instance the Encyclopædia Britannica and the American Artists Bluebook) whereas Microsoft Encarta suggests 1774. 1730 is usually posited as the year of birth but it is at best an estimate.
Some sources still give 1700-1765 as Blackburn's years. These most likely derive from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, published prior to Lawrence Park's review, "Joseph Blackburn - Portrait Painter", printed in the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society in 1922, which established many of the known works of Blackburn.
In 2015 Worcestershire Archives announced that they had located details of Blackburn's burial in Worcester in 1787.
|1760||Portrait of Colonel Theodore Atkinson, oil on canvas||view||50 × 40 in. (127.0 × 102.2 cm.) [also reported as 47 × 39 in. (120.7 × 99.7 cm.)]||Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts||Subject: lived 1697-1779; husband of Hannah Wentworth (1700-1769); colonial chief justice of New Hampshire Superior Court. IAP 80970127 and IAP 23570023|
|1760||Benning Wentworth, oil on canvas||H-93.5 W-58 inches||New Hampshire Historical Society, Concord, New Hampshire||Subject: lived 1696-1770, governor of New Hampshire, Bennington, Vermont is named after him.|
|1760||Portrait of Mrs. Theodore Atkinson, oil on canvas||view||49 × 39 in. (124.8 × 99.4 cm.)||Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts (listed in collection of Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio)||Subject: Hannah Wentworth (1700-1769); sister of first royal governor of New Hampshire; wife of Colonel Theodore Atkinson (colonial chief justice of New Hampshire Superior Court). IAP 41000005|
|1761||Thomas Wentworth, oil on canvas||San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, California||Subject: Thomas Wentworth (1740-1768)|
|1761||Portrait of Elizabeth Browne Rogers, oil on canvas||view||50 × 40 in. (127.0 × 101.6 cm.)||Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina||Subject: Elizabeth Browne (1741-1813); youngest daughter of Rev. Arthur Browne (1699-1773; Anglican rector of socially prominent Queen's Chapel in Portsmouth, New Hampshire); wife of Robert Rogers (1731-1795; well-known French and Indian War hero of Rogers' Rangers fame; m. 1761); later wife of John Roche (sea captain, fur-trader).IAP 80960021 and IAP 40010032|
|1762||Portrait of Ann Saltonstall, oil||IAP 71930550|
|1762||Portrait of Anne Saltonstall, oil on canvas||30 × 24 in. (127.6 × 102.6 cm.)||San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, Texas||IAP 67930001|
|1762||Portrait of Samuel Cutts (1762-1763), oil on canvas||view||50 × 40 in. (127.6 × 102.6 cm.)||Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City||Subject: lived 1726-1801. IAP 71560037|
|1762||Portrait of Mrs. Samuel Cutts (1762-1763), oil on canvas||view||50 × 40 in. (127.6 × 102.9 cm.)||Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City||Subject: lived 1735-1812. IAP 71560038|
|1764||Portrait of Hugh Jones, last known dated portrait by this artist||50 × 40 in. (128.4 × 102.2 cm.)||Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts||IAP 23570266|
1787 July 11 Joseph Blackburn Source: register of St. Nicholas, 1787 (reference 852 Worcester St. Nicholas BA3790/1b)