John Samuel Blunt was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. During his brief career he is known to have executed miniatures, ship ornaments and signage, as well as portraits, landscapes, and marine art. Works by Blunt can be seen in many collections accessible to the public including the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection, Williamsburg, Virginia; the American Folk Art Museum, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, MA; Portsmouth Athenaeum, Portsmouth Historical Society and Strawbery Banke Museum, all of Portsmouth, NH.
Biographical details concerning Blunt's personal life are in the process of being reconstructed. His early years were reportedly spent working at the Boston workshop of John Ritto Penniman (American, 1782-1841), a celebrated painter of signs, fire buckets, militia standards, and other forms of Ornamental Painting, In 1819, he travels with portrait artist William P. Codman up the Merrimack River as far as Concord, NH seeking commissions for portraits, landscapes and fancy paintings. In 1821, he married Esther Peake Colby (1801-1872) and they took up residence in a Federal mansion on Pleasant Street in Portsmouth, NH. In 1825, he opened an art instruction school there and continued to solicit patrons by advertising in the local papers. In 1830, Blunt moved to Boston to establish a studio on Cornhill and he settled his family into a residence on Castle Street. In 1835, Blunt died on a sea voyage returning from New Orleans to Boston.
Perhaps given his short life and the relative scarcity of work signed and dated by Blunt, scholarship has been somewhat sparse on this artist. Nina Fletcher Little brought the first serious critical attention to Blunt with her landmark article "J. S. Blunt, New England Landscape Painter" published in Antiques (September 1948). Robert C. H. Bishop wrote a dissertation on Blunt entitled The Borden Limner and His Contemporaries (University of Michigan) and curated two exhibitions featuring works by him, one of the same name at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1976-1977 and John Blunt: the man, the artist and his times at the American Folk Art Museum, New York, in 1980. Since Bishop's death in 1991, little material on Blunt has been published.
After the 1980 exhibit which included every known portrait by Blunt, many previously unknown portraits have surfaced and a number of documented works have been sold, including a very fine pair of fire buckets sold at Northeast Auctions, Portsmouth, NH, August 2004. As a result, I am developing a more in-depth chronology for this artist and updating the checklist of his works. I am particularly interested in locating descendants of the artist and primary documents concerning Blunt such as diaries, letters, account books and sketches. Should you have personal knowledge of any works by Blunt please contact me directly. Confidentiality is assured.
DEBORAH M. CHILD
A View of Portsmouth, [NH], from Freeman's Point
Oil on canvas. Height 45 inches. Width 63 ¾ inches
Courtesy of City of Portsmouth
Gift of Colonel William H. Sise, Mayor