Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jervas, Charles
JARVAS or JARVIS, CHARLES (1675?–1739), portrait-painter and translator of ‘Don Quixote,’ was born in Ireland, probably at Dublin, about 1675, and received a good education. Coming to England, he lived with Sir Godfrey Kneller for a year, assisting in his studio and receiving instruction from him. He was patronised by Norris, keeper of the pictures to William III and Anne, who permitted him to copy at Hampton Court. Jervas there made small copies of the cartoons of Raphael; two of these he lent to Gerard Audran at Paris, who made engravings from them, and the whole set he sold to Dr. George Clarke [q. v.] of Oxford. The generosity of Dr. Clarke and other friends enabled Jervas to go to Rome, where he set himself to study drawing, a branch of his art which he had hitherto neglected. He studied the antique statues, and made copies from the works of famous painters, some copies by him after Carlo Maratti being especially noticed for their excellence. He returned to England about 1709. His facile style of portrait-painting, and the original taste and fancy of his costumes, secured him the patronage of fashionable society. He painted many ladies as shepherdesses or country girls (see Tatler, No. 4, April 1709), and his paintings are to be found in most ancestral collections of portraits at the present day. He eventually succeeded Sir Godfrey Kneller as principal painter to George I, and was continued in that post by George II. In 1728 he painted a portrait of the latter for the Guildhall, and also others of the queen and Prince William. He drew George II and Queen Caroline in profile for the medals engraved on their accession by John Croker [q. v.] at the mint.
Jervas was on terms of intimacy with the leading literary celebrities of the day—Pope, Addison, Swift, Arbuthnot, Warburton, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and others. Having married a widow with a large fortune, he was able to make his house, which he filled with works of art of many descriptions, one of the meeting-places for his literary friends. Pope took lessons in painting for about a year and a half from Jervas, and addressed an adulatory poem to him. This was probably composed in 1713, and was prefixed to Dryden's translation of Du Fresnoy's ‘Art of Painting,’ edited by Richard Graham [q. v.] in 1716, and revised by Jervas himself. Jervas painted Pope several times. One picture is at Caen Wood, Highgate, London, another at Lansdowne House, and a full-length, seated (engraved by J. H. Robinson), with Mary Blount (?), is in the National Portrait Gallery. Jervas drew the head of Homer engraved for Pope's translation of the ‘Iliad,’ and the intimacy with the poet was only severed by death (see Spence, Anecdotes, ed. Singer, pp. 23, 26, 237). Swift sat to Jervas for his portrait in 1710, perhaps either for that now in the National Portrait Gallery or the one in the Bodleian Library at Oxford (Journal to Stella, Letters ii. and iii. &c.) Jervas's portrait of Arbuthnot is at the College of Physicians, and one of Sir Isaac Newton at the Royal Society. Many stories are told of Jervas's vanity and the liberties which he took with his fashionable sitters. He fell, or affected to fall, in love with Elizabeth Churchill, countess of Bridgewater, whose portrait, painted by him, is in the collection of Earl Spencer. In 1716 and the following years he practised in his native country, Ireland, with great success. On falling into indifferent health, he made a second visit to Italy in 1738, ostensibly to purchase pictures for the royal family. He failed, however, to restore his health, and on his return to England lingered for some time until his death, which occurred at his house in Cleveland Court on 2 Nov. 1739.
Jervas's style was too dependent on the fashion of the moment to obtain lasting popularity. In the next generation Walpole described his pictures as ‘of a light flimsy kind of fan-painting, as large as life.’ His contemporary, Kneller, remarked, on hearing that Jervas had set up a carriage and four horses, ‘Ah, mine Cot, if his horses do not draw better than he does, he will never get to his journey's end.’ Though at the best but a second-rate painter, his portrait of the Duchess of Queensberry at the National Portrait Gallery suffices to rescue him from the censure generally passed on him by later critics.
Jervas embarked on one important literary venture himself—a new translation of Cervantes's ‘Don Quixote.’ Pope informs us that Jervas was unacquainted with the Spanish language, and it does not appear that he made any study of the original work. In his preface Jervas unjustly taxes Thomas Shelton, whose famous rendering of ‘Don Quixote’ appeared in 1612, with translating from an Italian version by Franciosini (see Cervantes, Don Quixote, translated by A. J. Duffield, 1881). According to Mr. H. E. Watts (Cervantes done into English, 1888), Jervas himself merely revised the translation by Shelton, substituting for its quaint and sprightly language the more regular and less interesting prose of the eighteenth century. Mr. John Ormsby, however, states that the so-called ‘Jarvis's’ version has been unjustly disparaged. ‘As for Pope's dictum, any one who examines Jervas's version carefully side by side with the original will see that he was a sound Spanish scholar, incomparably a better one than Shelton, except perhaps in mere colloquial Spanish.’ Mr. Ormsby described Jervas, moreover, as a man of considerable reading, and a diligent student of the early volumes of the Spanish Academy Dictionary which appeared while his work was in progress (Don Quixote, a translation, with introduction and notes, by John Ormsby, London, 1885). The progress of Jervas's edition was followed with interest by his literary friends. Warburton contributed a history of chivalry and romance as an addition to the preface. John Vanderbank made a special series of drawings (now in the print room at the British Museum) to illustrate the work. Though completed, it remained unpublished at Jervas's death. His widow, Penelope, disposed of the copyright to the publishers, Dodsley & Tonson, who brought it out in two volumes, quarto, with Vanderbank's illustrations, in 1742. Jervas's translation of ‘Don Quixote’ was frequently reprinted, and maintained its popularity, even against Smollett's translation (1755), which was based on that of Jervas, but in a much broader style of diction.
Jervas's large collections of works of art were dispersed by auction in March 1739–40, and the sale occupied many days. They comprised a large quantity of majolica ware, sculptures by Fiammingo, drawings by the old masters, and many copies by Jervas after Rubens, Vandyck, and others. The catalogue was ornamented with an engraved allegorical frontispiece containing a portrait of Jervas.
[Walpole's Anecd. of Painting, ed. Wornum, and Letters, ed. Cunningham, iii. 52; Vertue's MSS. (Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 23076); Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Seguier's Dict. of Painters; Pope's Life and Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope; Dryden's Works, ed. Saintsbury and ed. Scott, xvii. 281.]