Jane Anthony Davis


until 1981 known only as J.A.Davis, produced more than two hundred portraits during her short life. In 1923 three of the artist’s unsigned portraits were attributed toJames Ellsworth and later to Alexander Emmons; in 1970 three others were attributed to Joseph H.Davis and to Eben Davis. In 1973 Gail and Norbert Savage foundthe name “J.A.Davis” on four portraits. In 1981, Sybil and Arthur Kern identified the artist, previously assumed to be a man, as Jane Anthony Davis, the daughter of Giles and Sara Robinson Greene Anthony, born September 2, 1821, in Warwick, Rhode Island. Two later reports by the Kerns supported this identification.For a short time in 1838 Jane attended the Warren (Rhode Island) Ladies Seminary, where she may have studied drawing and painting. On February 1, 1841, shemarried Edward Nelson Davis of Norwich, Connecticut. The newlyweds initially lived in Norwich, where, on January 10, 1842, Davis delivered her first child. Late in1844 they moved to Providence, Rhode Island, and on April 26, 1847, Davis gave birth to her second child. Her last portrait, of Louella Hodges, was painted inAugust 1854. Eight months later Jane Anthony Davis died of tuberculosis, at the age of thirtythree, and was buried in Providence’s Swan Point Cemetery.Most of the watercolor and pencil portraits by Davis are bust-length, in three-quarter view. The subjects often wear black clothing, and usually show a ragged part inthe hair, bluish coloring of the eyelids, a wide, colored horizontal band below the bustline, and negative space between arms and body. Occasionally, flowers are heldor are shown growing next to the subject. Many of the portraits are dated and signed “J.A.Davis,” and on some the subject’s name is inscribed.Almost all of Davis’s subjects were residents of the Norwich or Providence-Warwick areas; they may have been fellow students or teachers, or they may have beenrelated to or associated with her family. Two of the periods of her inactivity as an artist correspond to those when she was busy caring for her newborn children.
See also
Painting, American Folk
Kern, Arthur, and Sybil Kern. “J.A.Davis: Identity Reviewed.”
The Clarion,
vol. 16 (summer 1991): 41–47. ——.“Surprising Identity of J.A. Davis.”
The Clarion
(winter1981–82): 44–47. ——.“Was J.A. Davis Jane Anthony Davis? New Supporting Evidence.”
Folk Art,
vol. 24 (summer 1999): 26–31.