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 Joseph H. Davis  (1811 - 1865)

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Lived/Active: New Hampshire/Maine      Known for: naive portrait, landscape painting

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Ad Code: 3
Joseph H Davis
from Auction House Records.
Portrait of Three Jewel Siblings: John Woodman, Hannah Elizabeth and Mary Jane
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Joseph H. Davis was active circa 1832-1837 in Dover, New Hampshire and nearby Maine towns. A naive or folk artist, he combined drawing with watercolor to produce one-hundred fifty surviving small-scale portraits of New England families, often husbands and wives seated on opposite sides of their tables, with perhaps the man reading a newspaper, and the woman holding a cat or sewing. They are surrounded by the artifacts of their lives the Bible, bowls of fruit, paintings on the walls, set off by bold designs on carpets and table cloths. While many of the paintings are in the homes of the descendants of those depicted in the works, three paintings are in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and another in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Little is known about Davis's own life before and after his brief career. On one portrait, he identified himself as a "left-handed painter." Because quills, ink pots, and writing materials appear in so many of his paintings, it is thought that he may have been a traveling handwriting teacher. He used his own fine script to record sitters' names and ages at the bottom of his portraits.

Davis's work has been highly appreciated by folk art collectors for decades, but there have never been enough examples to satisfy those appetites. In the past there's been some difficulty in separating the work of Joseph H. Davis from that of J.A. Davis, another New England artist who produced small portraits in watercolor. His signed middle initial "A" looks enough like an "H" to create some confusion.

The pose of the subjects is the defining criterion between the Davises. J.H. Davis usually painted his full-length subjects in profile, while J.A. Davis painted his subjects in a three-quarter front view, usually cutting them off at the waist.

But experts can disagree. When Nina Fletcher Little wrote "New light on Joseph H. Davis, `Left Hand Painter' for "The Magazine Antiques" in November 1970, she included one portrait that Bert and Gail Savage, in their "J.A. Davis" article in the November 1973 issue of The Magazine Antiques, said was stylistically better related to J.A. Davis than J.H. Davis.


Joseph H. Davis was known as the "Left Hand Painter." He created watercolor portraits, more than one hundred silhouette-like portraits. He was in rural New Hampshire and Maine from 1832 to 1837 and New England from the 1820s-50s. Few of his works are signed.

Sources include:

Groce and Wallace, "The New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America"

Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"

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