was one of a handful of folk portrait painters known to have earned a livelihood during the second quarter of the nineteenth century in New York City. The belief thatthe folk portrait aesthetic appealed only to those who lived in rural, isolated areas is refuted by Bradley’s apparent success as a painter in New York City, StatenIsland, and possibly New Jersey.One of Bradley’s portraits is inscribed
/ From Great Britton
Although unconfirmed, Bradley may have been the person of that name who arrived in New York from Ireland in 1826. He was listed in New York City directories as a “portrait painter,” living at 56 Hammersley Street in 1836, 128 Spring Street from1837 to 1843, and at 134 Spring Street from 1844 to 1847. In 1832 Bradley made the first of several painting trips to Staten Island. The following year, three weeks before he completed one of five portraits of members of a Staten Island family, a “John Bradley,” residing at a home for retired seamen, was declared “deranged.” Theartist may have used visits to his namesake to secure commissions on Staten Island.Bradley’s earliest known works were probably painted in Britain. Portraits of a boy feeding rabbits and an unidentified woman, dated 1831, as well as a portrait of acellist painted the following year, use full-length poses on canvases that are smaller than those he used in the United States, and include more accoutrements than hisAmerican works. In the United States Bradley painted adults half-length and often posed seated in painted chairs, a swag of red drapery ornamented with gold tasselsclipping an upper corner of the canvas. Sitters hold newspapers, books, and, in two male portraits, lighted cigars.Children’s portraits are arguably Bradley’s most appealing works. He painted them standing on colorful carpets or sitting on sofas, with toys held by or scattered atthe feet of young children. Bradley’s style displays hard-edged drawing, a rich palette of reds, greens, blues, and yellows, and carefully observed details. Faces, barearms, and shoulders are outlined in white, separating the figures from their brown backgrounds, but also flattening the figures. Bradley painted a pair of husband andwife portraits in oil and distemper, a mixture of dry pigment and water with glue or oil added as a binder. Distemper was used for wall painting and poster painting,indicating that Bradley may have done decorative and commercial painting in addition to portraits.
Painting, American Folk
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Washington, D.C., 1992.Rumford, Beatrix T., ed.
American Folk Portraits: Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center.