John Jackson was a prolific and successful painter of highly individualised portraits, initially in watercolour and then increasingly in oil. He also developed a reputation for his copies of portraits by other artists, including Sir Joshua Reynolds, who – along with Sir Henry Raeburn and Sir Thomas Lawrence – influenced his style. Lawrence praised his work, describing his portrait of John Flaxman RA as ‘a grand achievement of the English School’ (as quoted by the Redgrave Brothers in A Century of Painters of the English School, 1866, vol 2, page 68). His direct approach as a painter and his amiable nature as a man were grounded in his adherence to Methodism. John Jackson was born in Lastingham, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, on 31 May 1778, the eldest son of the tailor, John Jackson, and his wife, Ann (née Warrener), who came from a family of Wesleyan Methodist missionaries. On completing schooling at Nawton, which lies about 15 miles from Lastingham, he began to work for his father.
However, he wanted to be an artist, so, in 1797, moved to York, and advertised his skills as a miniature painter on ivory. While in Whitby, he was introduced to Henry Phipps, Baron Mulgrave, who in turn introduced him to the Earl of Carlisle and Sir George Beaumont. Mulgrave commissioned him to copy Reynolds’ portrait of the playwright, George Colman, and, encouraged by Carlisle and Beaumont, a number of other paintings. Of these three supporters, Beaumont proved to be a taskmaster, spurring on his development through criticism. He stayed with Carlisle for several months at Castle Howard, with the Mulgrave family at their London house, and with Viscount Dillon, Mulgrave’s nephew by marriage, at Ditchley near Oxford.
In 1804, Lord Mulgrave enabled Jackson to move to London and take a studio in the Haymarket. Exhibiting at the Royal Academy for the first time in that year, Jackson entered the Royal Academy Schools in March 1805. There he became a friend of Benjamin Robert Haydon and David Wilkie, both of whom benefited from his friendships with Beaumont and Mulgrave. His second exhibit at the RA, in 1806, was a double portrait of Lady Mulgrave and her sister-in-law, the Hon Mrs Phipps.
In 1807, Jackson moved to 7 Newman Street, north of Oxford Street. On 14 March 1808, he married Maria Frances Fletcher, the daughter of a jeweller, at St Martin-in-the-Fields, and she would give birth to Maria Rosa three months later on 20 June. However, Maria Frances would die on 4 March 1817.
In 1813, Jackson began to produce portraits of eminent Methodists for the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine, and of others for Cadell and Davies’ British Gallery of Contemporary Portraits. His exhibits at the Royal Academy, in the years before his election as an Associate in 1815, included portraits of Lord Mulgrave and a number of fellow artists. In 1816, he made a five-week tour of the Low Countries with Lord Mulgrave’s brother, General the Hon Edmund Phipps. His election as a full Academician followed soon after, in 1817.
On 11 August 1818, Jackson married Matilda Louise, the daughter of his friend, the painter and printmaker, James Ward RA. For various reasons, Ward was opposed to the marriage: firstly, Matilda was considered flirtatious and wilful; secondly, Jackson was old enough to be Matilda’s father; thirdly, Jackson so closely adhered to primitive Methodism that he lacked worldly ambition. Nevertheless, Matilda would prove a devoted wife and mother, aided by Jackson’s steadfast character.
In December 1818, Beaumont invited Jackson to stay at Coleorton Hall, in Leicestershire. While there he painted the present copy of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Beaumont. (For further details, please see the note below.)
In 1819, Jackson travelled to Italy in the company of two fellow Yorkshiremen, the sculptor, Francis Chantrey RA, and Chantrey’s friend, John Read. While in Rome, he and his companions were shown the sights by Sir Thomas Lawrence, the President of the Royal Academy. He also painted the sculptor, Antonio Canova (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT), which led to his being elected to the Accademia di San Luca.
Following the incapacitation of Mulgrave in 1820, Jackson suffered depression. However, he was buoyed up by his faith and his family. In 1824, he and his wife moved from Hampstead to 16 Grove End Road, St John’s Wood. Together they had at least three children, namely Howard (born 1824), Matilda (born 1825) and Mulgrave Phipps (born 1830), the last of whom became an artist and critic. He continued to return home, to Lastingham, to visit his mother, and made donations to its church, which included a reduced copy of Correggio’s Agony in the Garden (owned by the Duke of Wellington) as well as money. He made his last visit to Yorkshire in 1831, in order to attend Mulgrave’s funeral. This weakened him and he died soon after, at home on 1 June 1831.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including John Wesley’s House & The Museum of Methodism, the National Portrait Gallery, Sir John Soane’s Museum and Tate; and Ferens Art Gallery (Hull), Hardwick Hall (National Trust), Oxford Brookes University and York Art Gallery.
Further reading: Felicity Owen, ‘Jackson, John (1778–1831)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 29, pages 496-498; Robin Simon, ‘Jackson, John (b Lastingham, Yorks, May 31, 1778; d London, June 1, 1831)’, Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 1996, vol 16, pages 369-370