Historical Marker #1888 in Lexington remembers Kentucky portraitist Matthew Harris Jouett, who painted some of Kentucky’s most well known nineteenth century personalities.
Matthew Harris Jouett was born in Mercer County in 1788 to Capt. John “Jack” and Sally Robards Jouett. Capt. Jack Jouett had gained recognition during the Revolutionary War for warning Thomas Jefferson of an impending raid on his Monticello home in Virginia, which allowed Jefferson and a number of Virginia’s legislators to escape capture. Jack Jouett moved to Kentucky in 1782, and raised a large family.
Matthew Jouett was afforded a good education at Transylvania University, where he graduated in 1804. Jouett tried his hand as an attorney studying under George M. Bibb in Frankfort, but lacked a passion for law. In 1812, Jouett, like so many other Kentuckians, enlisted to fight against the British and Native Americans in the War of 1812. He initially served with the Third Mounted Regiment of Kentucky Volunteers, but was later appointed by President James Madison as a lieutenant in the Twenty-eighth U.S. Infantry. Jouett attained the rank of captain before resigning in 1815.
Upon returning to Kentucky, Jouett decided to make a career change and focus on painting portraits. Jouett had previously developed his skills as an amateur artist while practicing law. In Lexington, Jouett opened a studio and began painting both life-size portraits and miniatures. He earned a reputation for his quick and quality work.
Feeling that he could benefit from additional instruction, Jouett moved to Boston in 1816, to study under accomplished portrait artist Gilbert Stuart. Returning to Kentucky, Jouett developed into Kentucky’s most recognized early-nineteenth century portrait artist. Notable figures such as Henry Clay, Marquis de Lafayette, Isaac Shelby, and John J. Crittenden, all sat for Jouett.
Jouett died at the young age of thirty-nine on August 10, 1827. He was initially buried in his wife’s family cemetery, but was later reinterred at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.