Jervas, Charles (c.1675–1739), painter, was born at Shinrone, King's Co. (Offaly), one of seven children (five sons and two daughters) of John Jervas of Clonliske, Shinrone, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Baldwin of Shinrone. He travelled to London where he studied painting with Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646–1723) in 1694–5. He is recorded as living in Dublin in 1697–8. On returning to England in 1698 he made copies after Raphael's cartoons at Hampton Court for Dr George Clark of All Souls College, Oxford. Clark lent him £50, which enabled him to set out for Italy in 1699. He arrived in Rome in December 1699 and was to remain there until 1709. In Italy he studied artists such as Titian, Guido Reni, Correggio, and Maratta, and made many copies after their work which were later included in the posthumous sale of his collection. Though he also bought a cartoon by Raphael for the ‘Transfiguration’, one of the great works of the Italian high renaissance, he was barred from taking it out of the country. In Rome his circle included the duke of Shrewsbury (qv), whose portrait he painted there in 1703, and Edward Wortley Montagu. He returned in 1709 to London, where a considerable reputation had preceded him, being written of as ‘the last great painter Italy has sent us’ (Tatler, 15 Apr. 1709).
He soon established himself in London as a successful portrait painter, and became known particularly for his female portraits, often depicting his fashionable sitters in pastoral settings as rural characters such as shepherdesses. His best work is a double portrait, ‘Martha and Teresa Blount’ (c.1715; Mapledurham House, Oxfordshire). To the surprise of his contemporaries he was appointed principal painter to King George I in 1723 on the death of Kneller; it was expected that the successor would be Kneller's closest rival, Michael Dahl (c.1659–1743). Jervas was closely associated with several of the leading literary figures of the day and found a particularly avid supporter for his work in the poet Alexander Pope, to whom he gave lessons in painting. Portraits of Pope by him may be found in the National Portrait Gallery, London, and in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Jervas also involved himself in literary endeavour. His translation of Don Quixote, though completed at his death, was not published until 1742. Subsequently, it was reprinted a number of times.
He maintained his links with Ireland, returning on a number of occasions, though fewer paintings by him have come to light in this country than might have been expected, considering the time he spent here. He was in Ireland from 1715 until December 1716, and again between June 1717 and September 1721. He visited again in 1729 and 1734. His Irish patrons included William ‘Speaker’ Conolly (qv), whose wife and daughter also sat for Jervas, as well as the Cosbys of Stradbally, Queen's Co. (Laois). His portrait of Jane Seymour Conway (NGI) shows the strong influence of Van Dyck's brushwork in the handling of the drapery, one of the better aspects of his painting. He also painted his friend Jonathan Swift (qv) a number of times; there are versions in the NGI and the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Generally, he tended to be repetitious in his approach to pose and his handling of the face, rather than adept at capturing a real likeness. Despite these shortcomings, Horace Walpole's opinion that he was ‘a man who has bequeathed such wretched daubings. Yet, between the badness of the age's taste, the dearth of good masters, and a fashionable reputation, Jervas sat at the top of his profession; and his own vanity thought no encomium disproportionate to his merit’ (Walpole, Anecdotes, vi, 23–4) is somewhat harsh. Jervas was one of the most important Irish painters of the early eighteenth century.
He returned in October 1738 to Italy, where he stayed in Rome until the following May in the hope of reviving his failing health. His situation did not improve and he died at his home at Cleveland Court, London, on 2 November 1739. He married (1727) a wealthy widow, Penelope Hume, said to have had a fortune of £20,000. This alliance may have allowed Jervas to pursue his taste for collecting. The sale of his large collection of paintings, sculpture, engravings, and maiolica took place over nine days in March 1740.