(American/Philadelphia, 1796-1865, active New Orleans early 1820s)
"William J. Burns (b. 1779)", 1824
oil on canvas
according to typewritten note en verso "Prior to relining, dated and inscribed to Wm. J. Burns Esq. My savior in New Orleans - J. Neagle 1824".
In an antique giltwood frame.
30" x 25", framed 37" x 32"
Provenance: Collection of Gretchen and Alonzo Lansford, former director Delgado Museum of Art, 1948-1957 (now New Orleans Museum of Art); Neal Auction Company, June 11, 2005, lot 569; Estate of Dr. Carroll Ball, Jackson, Mississippi.
Literature: Fitzgerald, Thomas. "John Neagle, the Artist". Lippincott's Magazine 5:1 (May 1868).
Dunlap, William. History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States, vol. II. New York: G.P. Scott & Co., 1834, pp. 372-377.
Notes: While the identity of William J. Burns of Frankfort, Kentucky remains elusive, the circumstances of Neagle's portrait of him is well-documented. William Dunlap's 1834 History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States includes a biography Neagle peppered with anecdotes from the artist himself, who assisted Dunlap with the work, providing much information on Neagle's mentors, Gilbert Stuart and Thomas Sully. Dunlap records Neagle's ill-fated journeyman trip to Lexington, Kentucky in 1818, where he was dumbfounded to find a very accomplished portraitist - Matthew Harris Jouett (1788-1827) - already in residence. He decided to travel downriver to New Orleans, but was depleted of finances. Says Dunlap: "The young painter in this dilemma was accosted by one who had known him in Philadelphia, and finding that he was awkwardly situated, frankly offered him assistance. The offer of the loan of a few dollars was accepted, and the youth once more afloat, was wafted with the current towards the great commercial emporium of the west." In a footnote, he adds: "The name of this friend was Burn, and the painter afterward presented him with his portrait, probably of $100 price, for the three dollars then lent him".
In 1868, two years after Neagle's death, Philadelphia-based Lippincott's magazine published a lengthy memorial of the artist by Thomas Fitzgerald, and it adds much color to the meeting between Neagle and Burns:
While waiting for the stage [at Frankfort] he was accosted by a townsman named Joseph Burns, saying: "Is this not John Neagle, of Philadelphia?"
"My name is Neagle, sir," was the reply.
"Which way are you going?" asked Burns.
"I hardly know," said Neagle; "but I had some thought of trying to make my way to New Orleans."
"God bless you! I am going the same way. Meeting a man from Philadelphia is like meeting a friend. We will go together!"
Fitzgerald recounts the rest of Neagle's voyage with the flamboyant, avuncular Burns ("Cheer up, my boy, for I am loaded with money!"), noting that the latter was annoyed when Neagle sold some of his wardrobe to the ship's captain and that "on their arrival in New Orleans, Burns procured a dozen portraits for Neagle to paint".