Art & Artifacts

Discover the Library Company’s Art and Artifact Collection

Distinguished Painters

 

John Neagle


Born in Boston but raised in Philadelphia, John Neagle (1796-1865) was a prominent portraitist celebrated for his astute observation and expressions of character. While apprenticing with a coach painter for over five years, Neagle was introduced to painter Bass Otis and subsequently took two months of painting lessons from the artist. Upon completion of his apprenticeship in 1818, he dedicated himself fully to the art of portraiture and moved south to Kentucky and New Orleans in hopes of making a name for himself. After finding little success in his travels, he ventured back to Philadelphia in 1820, where he was able to secure many profitable commissions. Throughout his career, he painted portraits of famous Americans from all walks of life, including Gilbert Stuart, Henry Clay, and James Fenimore Cooper. But perhaps his most famous work is that of a lesser-known American, Patrick Lyon. In his painting, Pat Lyon at the Forge, Neagle portrays a Philadelphia blacksmith wrongly convicted of bank robbery in the Grand Manner style; the unconventional approach greatly enhanced Neagle’s reputation in Philadelphia. He married Thomas Sully’s stepdaughter, Mary Chester Sully, in 1826. He later presided over the Artist Fund Society of Philadelphia and continued to paint until a few years before his death.


John Neagle (1796-1865).

 

John Neagle (1796-1865).
Mathew Carey, 1825.
Oil on canvas.
Library Company of Philadelphia.Gift of Mary Hudson, 1991.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Neagle, Portrait of Mathew Carey

Originally from Ireland, Mathew Carey (1760-1839) eventually established himself in Philadelphia and went on to become the most prominent bookseller and publisher of his day. This portrait is the only painting of Carey taken from life; Neagle’s portrayal captures a man seemingly mischievous, with a sly, sardonic gaze. When Neagle later asked fellow artist Gilbert Stuart what he thought of the portrait, Stuart remarked, “That is a bobbish picture.” Neagle and Carey would later have a thorny relationship, after Carey became Neagle’s landlord. Nevertheless, this portrait offers us an intimate glimpse at a well-known Philadelphian.

 

 

John Neagle (1796-1865).

 

John Neagle (1796-1865).
William Mackenzie, 1829.
Oil on canvas.
Library Company of Philadelphia. Commissioned by the Library Company, 1829.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Neagle, Portrait of William Mackenzie

A native of Philadelphia, William Mackenzie (1758-1828) was a dedicated scholar and early bibliophile. Though originally trained for business, he retired early to pursue a life of scholarship. By the time of his death in 1828, he had amassed one of the largest private libraries in the United States. His collection was particularly remarkable as he sought books not merely for personal interest but also for their rarity and age. As such, many have deemed Mackenzie America’s first rare book collector. Through bequest and purchase, the Library Company acquired over 7,000 volumes. This portrait, and his generous donation of books, serves as a testament to his quiet and scholarly spirit.

 

 


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