BLUNT, JOHN S.
was a nineteenth-century painter with patrons in New England, many living near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Boston, where he lived. He painted portraitsincluding some miniatures, but he also extended his subjects to land scapes, seascapes, ship portraits, and genre scenes. In newspaper notices, Blunt advertised that hecould paint oil portraits on canvas, work on glass, paint signs, do ornamental enameling, gilding, and bronzing, and make military standards. He was proficient not onlyin oils but also in watercolor and with crayons or pastels. Through his ads, which appeared between 1819 and 1828 in the
New Hampshire Patriot
New Hampshire Gazette,
he solicited commissions for portraits, advertised an exhibition of his paintings, and sought young lady “scholars” for his drawing and paintingschool. His detailed ledger indicates that he was frequently hired by Masonic groups, for whom he made aprons, sashes, and military standards.Characteristic of Blunt’s portraits is naturalism in facial features, flesh tones, and hair. A portrait of a youngster,
shows the sweet, expressive faceof a child, with saturated color in the child’s clothing, and an emphasis on details such as stylized pleats, folds, puffed sleeves in the clothing, and a coral necklace. The portrait includes such items as a sewing basket with spools of thread, scissors, and cloth; and a table on which is a tasseled blue reticule, a vase of flowers, and a card bearing the name “Frances A.Motley,”
the same identifying device Blunt had used in a portrait of a gentleman painted about 1830. Women are fashionably dressed and elegantly coifedin elaborate period hairdos, some wearing gauzy lace caps or tortoiseshell combs, and are wearing brooches, necklaces, earrings, and rings. Blunt sometimes placed hisfigures near open windows against the backdrop of a stylized landscape of celery-colored trees. In the pendant portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Wood, Blunt’s meticulousrendering of the couple’s stoic, somewhat severe countenances and crisp detailing of Mrs. Blunt’s lace-embellished cap, for instance, contrast with the summary sketchof the outdoor vista.The attribution by museum director Robert Bishop (1938–1991) of a number of unsigned portraits to John S. Blunt, previously identified as the “Borden Limner,”link these portraits to a group of signed landscapes, marine paintings, and genre works.Blunt may have descended from an Englishman who settled in Andover, Massachusetts, in 1634. In the 1821 Portsmouth directory, Blunt was listed as an“Ornamental and Portrait Painter married to Edith P. Colby.” His painting of
was exhibited at the Boston Atheneum in 1829. In 1831, Bluntmoved to Boston, where he purchased a house, on Castle Street, and opened a studio, on Cornhill Street. Blunt died aboard the vessel
while traveling from NewOrleans to Boston.
Robert Bishop; Fraternal Organizations;
Freemasonry; Maritime Folk Art; Miniatures;
Painting, Landscape; Trade Signs
The Borden Limner and His Contemporaries.
Ann Arbor, Mich., 1976. ——.“John Blunt: The Man, the Artist, and His Times.”
(spring 1980): 20–39.