Portrait of Rachel Donelson Jackson
Pittsylvania County Courthouse
This portrait of Rachel Donelson Jackson, who was born in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, hangs in the Pittsylvania County Courthouse. It was commissioned by the Thomas Carter Chapter D.A.R. of Pittsylvania County and the Dorothea Henry Chapter D.A.R. of Danville, and was painted by Alexander von Jost of Richmond. The portrait was presented on May 13, 1944.
James G. Barber's 1991 book Andrew Jackson: A Portrait Study contains a detailed history of likenesses of Rachel Donelson Jackson. Artist Ralph E. W. Earl painted similar portraits of Rachel around 1825, 1827 (Rachel died in 1828), and 1831, all of which are now at the Jacksons' Tennessee home, The Hermitage. (See an example from among this Hermitage portrait collection.) These early Earl images of Rachel Jackson are almost certainly the basis for this Pittsylvania Courthouse painting.
White House portrait of Rachel Donelson Jackson, by Howard Chandler Christy, 1941.
In the 1940's a rendition by acclaimed portraitist and illustrator Howard Chandler Christy showing a more youthful and beautiful Rachel was painted for the White House, and remains there today. It was also based to some extent on the Ralph E. W. Earl images. However, James Barber (see above) commented that the portrayal is more that of movie star Norma Shearer than of Rachel Jackson.
- Research assistance regarding early portraits and the White House collection was provided by William C. Allman, Curator, The White House.
- Information regarding Pittsylvania's Rachel Jackson portrait is from “Pittsylvania Will Get Portrait of Rachel Donelson Jackson,” The Times-Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia, May 11, 1944. Alexander von Jost also produced two other portraits for public display in Chatham. In 1927 the William Pitt Chapter U.D.C. commissioned him to paint William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, for whom the Pittsylvania County is named. The painting is displayed in the courthouse (“William Pitt Picture Painted for Confederate Daughters,” The Times-Dispatch, June 28, 1927). In 1942 he completed a portrait of famed educator Celestia Susannah Parrish, county native. That portrait was initially also placed in the courthouse (“Portrait of Noted Pittsylvania Woman Will Be Unveiled,” Greensboro Daily News, Greensboro, North Carolina, April 10, 1942), but in the 1990s was moved to the boardroom of the central office of the Pittsylvania County Schools. Alexander von Jost was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He was primarily educated at the Maryland Institute, Baltimore, Maryland. He moved to Richmond about 1917. He did portraits (hundreds of them), copies of paintings, and etchings. He passed away in January of 1968. (Information regarding Alexander von Jost is from “Paintings of Richmonder Still on Exhibition Here,” The Times-Dispatch, November 19, 1924, and “Alexander von Jost Dies; Portrait Artist, Etcher,” The Times-Dispatch, January 12, 1968. (Research assistance on this topic was provided by Sarah E. Mitchell, VintageDesigns.com.)
- Transcribed into digital format by Jonathan C. Mitchell.
- Photographs of the paintings are by the author.
- Yet another portrait of Rachel Donelson Jackson, also based on the Earl originals, is in the collection of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society, Onancock, Virginia (research assistance provided by Herman Melton).
Clement: History of Pittsylvania County, Virginia
Hurt: Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County
Fitzgerald: Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past
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