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THE RAGAN SISTERS by Jacob Eichholtz (c.1820)
Jacob Eichholtz was born November 2, 1776, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he spent much of his life. His first drawing lessons were rudimentary, obtained from a sign painter. He apprenticed with a copper and tinsmith before being hired as a journeyman to a master coppersmith in 1801. He established his own business, working as a tinsmith until 1812, but sold this enterprise in 1815 to devote himself to painting. Eichholtz was married twice, first to Catharine Michael Hatz, a widow with two children and with whom he had four children. After his first wife's death Eichholtz wed Catharine Trissler of Lancaster in 1818, and with her had nine children.
Eichholtz began painting portraits in profile as early as 1805. In 1808 he met Thomas Sully, who was in Lancaster working on a portrait commission. Eichholtz offered Sully the use of his "painting room," and later described their interaction:"Chance about this time threw a painter into the town of my residence. This in a moment decided my fate as to the arts. Previous to the arrival of this painter, I had made some rude efforts with tolerable success, having nothing more than a bootjack for a palette, and anything in the shape of a brush, for at that time brushes were not to be had, not even in Philadelphia. At length I was fortunate enough to get a few half-worn brushes from Mr. Sully, being on the eve of his departure for England. This was a great feast to me, and enabled me to go on until others were to be had (1809)." (Dunlap 1834: 2:385). Later in this passage Eichholtz goes on the describe his early artistic efforts: "Part of the day I wrought as coppersmith, the other part as painter." A ledger recording his tinsmithing trade and other business from 1809 to 1817 is interspersed with entries for portraits.
Eichholtz painted profile portraits throughout his career, but employed this format far less frequently after 1810. An essentially self-taught painter, Eichholtz showed a marked progression in his technical skills throughout the 1810s and 1820s. While his early profile figures are simple and only somewhat painterly, the portraits that constitute the majority of his oeuvre (1810-1842) are more sensitive and thoughtful renderings, more mature in style. Full-faced, these images are much richer in modeling and color, and recall Sully's style, but are less romantic then Sully's, grounded in an unpretentious realism. His most ambitious compositions are those of the 1830s that employ elaborate backgrounds and accoutrements. Although best known for his portraiture, he painted landscape and history subjects as well.
In 1811, Eichholtz visited the painter Gilbert Stuart in Boston, and began to exhibit with the Society of Artists at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he continued to exhibit until his death. William Dunlap took note of the artist's success in Baltimore during an 1820 visit there. Eichholtz often painted in that city, spending weeks at a time there on portrait commissions, and is also known to have worked in Pittsburgh and in Delaware. By 1821 he was working in Philadelphia, where he lived for ten years before returning to Lancaster in 1832. He died in there in 1842.
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