Archivists paint a picture of Worcester portraitist

Published Tuesday, 1st December 2015

Information unearthed on the previously elusive Joseph Blackburn

Researchers at Worcestershire Archive service have discovered fascinating new details about the life of Joseph Blackburn, a British painter who was one of the most successful portraitists in Colonial America. 

Portraits by Blackburn dating from the 1750s and 1760s hang in many American galleries as well as a number in Britain. The National Gallery of Art in Washington describes him as, '…particularly important in the history of American art…'

Whilst Blackburn's artistic works are famous across the world, details of his personal life are less clear; to date there appears to have been no confirmation of the details of his later life and death, and he is often even mistakenly noted as being American. Now, thanks to research undertaken by archivists, Worcestershire Archive Service are able to reveal new details of his life for the first time. 

As a result of the new research, archivists now know that Blackburn died in 1787 in the parish of St Nicholas in Worcester, England, where his family is recorded as living from 1768, and where he was an active member of the church. His will reveals that he was a wealthy man, and that he had two daughters, Henrietta and Elizabeth.

Joseph Blackburn was buried in St Nicholas Church, Worcester on 11 July 1787.

The research conclusions and methodology are covered on the WAAS blog as part of the Explore Your Archive campaign, and have been shared by Bendor Grosvenor, prominent art historian and expert on BBC's Fake or Fortune.

Paul Hudson, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service Learning and Outreach Manager, said: "Naturally we are delighted to have shed some light on one of Worcester's most celebrated residents. Although his work remains well-known, we knew very little about his life until our archivists started this research.

"Many congratulations to archivists Angela Downton, Julia Pincott and Teresa Jones; their work is a credit to Worcestershire Archive Service. However, we are eager to find out more, and if anybody feels they can contribute to what we know about this remarkable man, please do get in touch."  

For more information on Joseph Blackburn or the work of Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service visit