Portrait of David Hewes, 1854

Portrait of David Hewes, 1854
William S. Jewett, American
Oil on canvas; 35.5 in. 28.5 in.
5541 Two distinguished individuals are associated with this painting made in San Francisco, 1854. Both men came to California during the mid 1800’s Gold Rush era not following gold, but opportunity and business. Both gentlemen succeeded in making their fortunes and the nature of their businesses brought them together. Depicted in the portrait is David Hewes, a man of affairs, a philanthropist and a lover of art. Hewes came to California in 1849 from his home in Massachusetts via Cape Horn. An opportunist, he prospered from the sales of collapsible metal buildings that sustained the influx of gold-seekers. He is responsible for the leveling of San Francisco's hills, readying them for development and for filling portions of the waterfront with sand and earth, contributing to the present day shape of the city. In the late 1880’s a group of entrepreneurs (the Big Four) began a venture that would unite east and west coasts via the first Transcontinental Railroad. Huntington, Stanford, Crocker and Hopkins saw Hewes as an obvious partner in completing the railroad but, he was not financially prepared to join their venture and declined the offer. As luck would have it, Hewes became equally associated with the railroad through his donation of the final Golden Spike that completed the railroad in 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah. The ceremony was highly celebrated and the news spread across the country by telegraph; the event was documented in one of the best known American photographs. Eventually Hewes retired to El Modena, California where he opened Hewes Park, a public park and garden. This portrait was painted by the artist William Jewett (1812-1873). At the age of 21 Jewett began painting in his home state of New York. He studied at the National Academy of Design and early in his career received a commission to paint the governor of New York. He moved to San Francisco to offer his portrait services to the quickly growing group of wealthy and prominent individuals. In 1854 a young and well-dressed David Hewes posed for Jewett in his studio. Hewes is depicted with his elbow resting on a red draped curtain, in the background stands a singular column, a symbol of strength. His wide eyes gaze intently, his clenched fist rests on his left hip and a slight hint of a smile is detected. Jewett masterfully captures the likeness of Hewes and at the same time succeeds in capturing the self-assurance and alacrity of the young entrepreneur’s demeanor. Jewett was the first professional portrait painter to work in the city of San Francisco.
All images and text under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. Information subject to change with further research.
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