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A portrait of Matthew Harris Jouett, showing a white man in a white collared shirt fading into a black background.

Matthew Harris Jouett (1788-1827):  His Life and Work

Tuesday, May 11, 6:00-7:00 p.m. – Sponsored by the Thomas W. Bullitt Perpetual Charitable Trust. REGISTER HERE

Matthew Harris Jouett has long been regarded as the most legendary artist in Kentucky history.  That legend has attracted a voluminous oral history of misinformation obscuring the true facts of his life and challenging the credibility of works attributed to him.  This program presents the evolution of a critical biography of his life, based on primary sources, which defines his development as an artist within the context of the cultural and intellectual history of his time; to offer a perspective on his artistic legacy by addressing the currents of interest in his art since the time of his death, dispelling the more egregious errors, and challenging the veracity of the more fabled episodes which obscure his true worth; and to provide an illustrated checklist of work whose corroborating literature and historic authenticity are as indisputable as possible.  He came of age in a frontier community teeming with high-minded cultural ambitions undermined by the presence of slavery. He studied with a grand master who was then at the end of his days of fame and influence, and whose astute neoclassical approach to portraiture was fading fast before the passions of the romantics. His best work is informed by his own intellectual curiosity and personal perceptions, as manifest in the riveting gaze with which his sitter’s eye those standing before them, a gaze which informs us of their once and future presence. 

For the past forty years Estill Curtis Pennington has sought to elevate the profile of Kentucky’s cultural and intellectual history through a series of publications which include William Edward West:  Kentucky Painter; Kentucky: the master painters from the frontier era to the great depression; Lessons in Likeness:  the portrait painter in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley 1800-1920 as well catalogs of private collections and essays in  Bluegrass Renaissance, The White House History Quarterly and the American Art Review.  Though he has lived in Washington, London and Amsterdam he loves the rolling fields of bluegrass in Bourbon County, Kentucky where he was born and to which he has happily returned.