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Young Man Seated, possibly Isaac Watts Merrill (1803-1879)

1831
Origin: America, NH, Plasitow (prob); or MA, Haverhill
Unframed): 24 x 19 7/8in. (61 x 50.5cm) and Framed: 27 x 23 x 1 5/8in.
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1958.100.38
A half-length portrait of a young man seated sideways in a side chair and turned one quarter towards the viewer's left, his proper right arm draped over the crest rail of the chair, his eyes on the viewer, his proper left hang hung down out of the picture. The background is a warm reddish brown. The chair is gold or brown with gold pin-striping on the crest rail and bulbous turnings on the spindles. The sitter wears a dark coat over a gold-colored waistcoat with a white neckcloth and a white shirt having a high white collar. In his proper right hand, he holds a red, bound book having an inscription on the spine. The sitter has dark blue or gray eyes and dark brown hair.
The 3-inch cyma reversa frame with gilt liner is a modern replacement.
Label:Samuel Jordan was jailed on three occasions, first, for passing counterfeit money, second, for horse theft and writing a threatening letter, and third, in 1834, for burglary, the latter charge netting him a life sentence. He escaped two years later, however, and disappeared without a trace. Previously, a prison chaplin had noted that, while Jordan "was never given to Drink," that was "almost the only vice to which he was not addicted."

Only five paintings signed by Jordan are known, all of them executed following his second release from prison in the fall of 1830, which suggests an earnest, if short-lived, effort to get his life in order. He had been pardoned on condition of leaving the United States for four years, but he immediately defied the order. A diary kept by Isaac Watts Merrill, a shoemaker and farmer of Haverhill, Massachusetts, attests to the fact that Jordan dallied both there and across the state line in Plaistow, New Hampshire. Merrill's diary even states that he sat for Jordan. Likely, this is his portrait.

The book held by the sitter is labeled "Wats," signifying "Watts' Hymns." Merrill, the grandson of a minister, was a devout, regular church-goer and secretary of the Sacred Music Society in Plaistow, enhancing the likelihood that this portrait represents him.

Many early-nineteenth-century portraits show men and older boys seated sideways in chairs, their far arms casually thrown over the chair backs, as illustrated here. The pose suggests a person who is at ease with himself and the world around him, someone who is relaxed, yet forthright, direct, and self-possessed.

For more information, see Deborah M. Child, "Samuel Jordan: Artist, Thief, Villain," ANTIQUES & FINE ART (Summer 2009), pp. 146-153.





Provenance:J. Stuart Halladay and Herrel George Thomas, Sheffield, Mass. Halladay died in 1951, leaving his interest in their jointly-owned collection to his partner, Thomas. Thomas died in 1957, leaving his estate to his sister, Mrs. Albert N. Petterson, who was AARFAC's vendor.
Inscription(s):Below the chair back in the lower left corner appears "S. Jordan/Pinxit/1831." The inscription on the book spine in the sitter's hand appears to read "Wats".