painted individual and group watercolor portraits, as well as several miniatures, one of which was completed in 1827 and remains the artist’s earliest known work.Extant examples number about thirty and were painted in the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Boston and Roxbury, Massachusetts, areas. An elusive figure, theartist’s first name and gender remain unknown. Evans worked without making a preliminary pencil drawing, an uncommon practice that indicates the artist’s confidencein handling the watercolor medium. Fulllength figures are posed with heads turned in profile and bodies are shown in three-quarter view. This profile format suggeststhat Evans was not comfortable with drawing faces from another perspective, though faces are nevertheless exquisitely rendered and delicately colored, as arecostumes and props. The artist’s idiosyncrasies include the awkward proportions of arms, hands, and feet, protruding upper lips, and figures that appear to be hoveringover floors rather than standing on them. Despite these faults, the artist’s stylistic consistency indicates there was no compelling reason for Evans to alter a style that had proved acceptable to clients.A distinguishing feature of Evans’ portraits is their size. Working on watercolor sheets measuring as many as fourteen by eighteen inches allowed Evans to createambitious, multiple-figure compositions. One, showing a husband standing at the foot of a staircase, his young son holding a hoop toy and his wife seated in a fancychair with her feet resting on a cushion and an infant standing on her lap, is Evans’ most ambitious work. Families are grouped in interior settings, while individuals are portrayed either inside or outside, usually standing on grassy knolls or in gardenlike settings.Evans’ preference for the profile format, patterned floor covers, and men holding beaver hats, as well as the inclusion of a cat in one portrait, gives his work morethan a passing resemblance to the early work of Joseph H.Davis (active 1832–1837). Davis started painting after Evans did, in the same area. Thus there is a stronglikelihood that Davis knew of and appropriated elements from Evans’ watercolors.The proliferation of itinerant watercolor painters before 1850 may be explained by the relative ease with which the requisite skill could be obtained, as well as the useof materials easily procured and transported. The prices charged for watercolors were less than for oils, but experienced watercolorists worked quickly, increasing their productivity. J.Evans is representative of a group of artists who traveled within a fairly circumscribed area, painting efficient and attractive likenesses for a mostly ruralclientele.
Joseph H.Davis; Miniatures; Painting, American Folk
D’Ambrosio, Paul S., and Charlotte M.Emans.
Folk Art’s Many Faces: Portraits in the New York State Historical Association.
Cooperstown, N.Y., 1987.Savage, Gail, et al.
Three New England Watercolor Painters.