Although he seems to have been a prominent painter in his own time, James Claypoole, Jr., is relatively unknown today. Probably born on Philadelphia, he was the son of James Claypoole, an even lesser known artisan and painter, and probably trained under his father. Some time between 1769 and 1771 Claypoole, Jr., departed Philadelphia for London, intending to study with Benjamin West (1738-1820), as did many colonial artists. During the journey, a storm forced Claypoole's ship to stop at Jamaica. Claypoole settled there, married, and continued to work as a portraitist, miniaturist, and coach painter. It is unknown whether he ever returned to America.
The pendant portraits of Joseph Pemberton and his young wife, Ann, (1968.6) were most likely painted in honor of their marriage in 1767. Joseph Pemberton was the son of Israel Pemberton, a prominent Quaker and one of the richest merchants in Philadelphia. Venturing south to court a potential wife, Joseph visited relatives in New River, Maryland; after meeting Ann Galloway, he traveled no further. This lavish portrait displays not only the artist's desire to showcase his painting skill in the elegant mode popular in England, but also Joseph Pemberton's extravagant tastes. The graceful yet casual poses are typical of fashionable European portraits, while the clothing and other accoutrements indicate the sitters' wealth and social status.