In the Colonial and Federal periods, portraits held a special significance in the homes of prosperous American Jews. These likenesses served their traditional purpose in asserting the subject's status and ensuring some measure of immortality. They also acted as daily reminders of family members distanced by geography. Most important, these portraits affirmed their sitters' identities as Americans in the open, democratic society to which they contributed. Like their Christian counterparts, Jewish patrons commissioned portraits from the most prestigious artists, such as Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Sully, and John Wesley Jarvis. The resulting images defined the esteemed position held by these members of the small but vibrant Jewish community.

Born in England, Jarvis was the most popular portrait painter in New York during the first quarter of the nineteenth century. He apprenticed with the engraver Edward Savage in Philadelphia before moving to New York, around 1802. Jarvis was prized for his faithfulness in delineating faces and his acuity in rendering character. He received commissions from many prominent Jews including the newspaper publisher and diplomat Mordecai Manuel Noah; and the war hero, later New York state assemblyman, Major Mordecai Myers. In Baltimore from 1810 to 1813, he executed portraits of Solomon Etting, a director of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and his wife, Rachel Gratz Etting, a member of the well-known Gratz family of Philadelphia.

Solomon Isaacs (b. New York, 1786-1855) was related to the most powerful, respected Sephardic families in America through his marriage to Elkalah Kursheedt, granddaughter of Gershom Mendes Seixas, "The Patriot Rabbi," and his sister Frances's marriage to the copper magnate Harmon Hendricks. (Seixas was one of the few clergymen invited to officiate at George Washington's inauguration and was a trustee of Columbia College.) Apprenticed to his brother-in-law, Isaacs learned all aspects of copper manufacturing, from appraising foreign metals to understanding the processes of refining and rolling. His expertise and ability to supervise engineers and mill hands led to a partnership with Hendricks, who reactivated the defunct Soho Copper Works in New Jersey. Isaacs was entrusted with Hendricks's longstanding account with Paul Revere & Sons. The firm also supplied Robert Fulton with copper for his pioneering steamboats and the United States Navy with copper sheathing for warships.

Posed on a luxurious armchair, Isaacs exudes the robustness and confidence of a young successful industrialist. Fashionably dressed, his white ruffled shirt and stock tie illuminate the olive complexion of his sensitively modeled face and serve as marked contrasts to his curly dark hair. Jarvis provides visual trappings of wealth to define his subject's social standing-a bamboo cane, the gold chain on his red pocket watch, and the extravagant chair with a carved lion. Although popular as a neoclassical decorative motif, the lion may allude to Solomon's biblical namesake and symbolize the Lion of Judah. The portrait may date from late 1813 or early 1814, to honor Isaacs's official partnership in the copper mill.


  • Title: Portrait of Solomon Isaacs
  • Creator: John Wesley Jarvis
  • Date Created: c. 1813
  • Location: New York, United States, North and Central America
  • Physical Dimensions: 36 5/8 × 28 1/4 in. (93 × 71.8 cm)
  • Provenance: The artist to sitter Solomon Isaacs; descended in the family; sold to JM 1996
  • Type: Paintings
  • Rights: https://thejewishmuseum.org/about-this-site#terms-conditions
  • External Link: View this object at thejewishmuseum.org
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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