James Jackson Jarves

James Jackson Jarves (1818–1888) was an American newspaper editor, and art critic who is remembered above all as the first American art collector to buy Italian primitives and Old Masters.

Life and career

Jarves was the editor of an early weekly newspaper in the Hawaiian Islands, the Polynesian (1840–48). During the 1850s, Jarves relocated to Florence, Italy where he served as the U.S. vice-consul and collected art.[1][2] When in 1871, the Yale University Art Gallery purchased 119 early Italian paintings from Jarves, spanning the centuries from the tenth to the seventeenth, which had been refused by other American museums, they paid only $22,000.[3] At the expiration of the loan, Yale prevented Jarves' intended auction of the works to another museum. The "Master of the Jarves Cassone", later discovered to be Apollonio di Giovanni di Tomaso, was named after him.[4]

An honorary Hawaiian citizen, Jarves was awarded the order of Kamehameha I for his diplomatic services to Hawaii while empires fought to control it. The king of Italy appointed him Cavaliere della Corona d'Italia for his contribution to Italian art (source - Steegmuller).

His family includes Horatio, Chevalita, Flora (with first wife Elizabeth Swain - died) and Anabel and Italia (second wife Isabella Kast Hayden). Anabel became Mrs Walter Raleigh Kerr of England and Italia the Duchess del Monte, Marigliano of Italy.

Edith Wharton drew upon Jarves' well-known misfortunes in her novella False Dawn (The Forties).[5]


Some of his works:[6]

  • History of the Hawaiian or Sandwich Islands: Embracing Their Antiquities, Mythology, Legends, Discovery by Europeans in the Sixteenth Century, Re-Discovery by Cook, with Their Civil, Religious and Political History, from the Earliest Traditionary Period to the Present Time (1843)
  • Scenes and Scenery in the Sandwich Islands, and a trip through Central America: being observations from my notebooks during the years 1837-1842 (1843)
  • Parisian Sights and French Principles, Seen Through American Spectacles (1852)
  • Parisian Sights and French Principles, Seen Through American Spectacles, Second Series (1855)
  • Art-Hints, Architecture, Sculpture and Painting (1855)
  • Italian Sights and Papal Principles, Seen Through American Spectacles (1856)
  • Kiana: A Tradition of Hawaii (1857)
  • Why and What Am I? The Confessions of an Inquirer, In Three Parts. Part I. Heart-Experience; or, The Education of the Emotions (1857)
  • Art Studies: The "Old Masters" of Italy; Painting (1861)
  • The Art-Idea: Part Second of Confessions of an Inquirer (1864)
  • Art Thoughts, The Experiences and Observations of an American Amateur in Europe (1870)
  • A Glimpse at the Art of Japan (1876)
  • Italian Rambles, Studies of Life and Manners in New and Old Italy (1883)
  • Pepero, the Boy-Artist. A Brief Memoir of James Jackson Jarves, Jr. (1891)


This list is incomplete.


  1. Jarves, James Jackson, The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001-05
  2. James Jackson Jarves Biography (1818–88)
  3. Branch, Mark Alden. '"Lost and Found", Yale Alumni Magazine, May 2000
  4. James Jackson Jarves in the Dictionary of Art Historians
  5. Brewer, John. The American Leonardo: A Tale of Obsession, Art and Money (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), p.27
  6. Steegmuller, Francis. The Two Lives of James Jackson Jarves (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951), pp. 309-310.

See also


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