Jeremiah Theüs
Born Chur, Switzerland, April 5, 1716. Died Charleston, S.C., May 17, 1774.

Swiss-born Jeremiah Theüs lived and painted portraits in Charleston (or Charles Town, as it was known until the late eighteenth century) from at least 1740 until his death. In this role he had little competition. Although his studio was in the city, he did not mind traveling to nearby plantations and as far as Savannah to fulfill commissions. About two hundred portraits are attributed to him, but his output also included landscapes, coats of arms, and even, at one point, the steeple of a new church. In addition, he was a teacher and conducted an evening drawing school. Theüs’s palette was often bright, even for male sitters, and he lavished particular attention on the bows, lace, flowers, jewelry, and other trimmings of his female sitters. He repeatedly referred to English mezzotint portraits for poses and costume. This habit, along with the stylized facial features of his sitters, resulted in many similar portraits.

Jeremiah Theüs was born in the eastern Swiss city of Chur. The eldest child of Simeon and Anna Walser Theüs, he was nineteen when he immigrated with his family to South Carolina in 1735.1 Five years earlier, twelve townships had been created in South Carolina’s undeveloped inland country. To encourage settlement there by European Protestants, the colony’s General Assembly provided funds to transport immigrants to the townships and supplied them with farm tools and a year’s stock of food. Along with many other Swiss Protestants, Simeon Theüs received a 250-acre land grant in Orangeburgh Township (in present-day Orangeburg County) on the Edisto River and a town lot. One of Jeremiah’s brothers, Christian, was ordained by the Charleston Presbytery in 1739 and became a pastor. Another brother, Simeon, was a merchant and tavern owner.2

By 1740 Jeremiah Theüs was in Charleston, where he advertised in the South-Carolina Gazette:

Notice is hereby given, that Jeremiah Theus Limner is remov’d into the Market Square near Mr. John Laurans Sadler, where all Gentlemen and Ladies may have their Pictures drawn, likewise Landskips of all Sizes, Crests, and Coats of Arms for Coaches or Chaises. Likewise for the Conveniency of those who live in the Country, he is willing to wait on them at their respective Plantations.3

Charleston was a busy seaport as well as the seat of the colony’s government, and its population increased from May through October, when plantation owners typically lived in town. Jeremiah Theüs wisely established his studio in a central location, at the northeast corner of Broad and Meeting streets. Because there was little opportunity for study in Charleston, it is probable that Theüs had received his early training in Switzerland. By 1744, when he was twenty-eight, he felt confident enough in his abilities to open an evening drawing school for "young Gentlemen and Ladies" at his house on Friend Street.4

On January 13, 1741, Theüs married seventeen-year-old Cathrina Elizabeth Shaumlöffel, daughter of John Shaumlöffel of Orangeburgh Township. Jeremiah and Cathrina had five children; she died, giving birth to the sixth—who died with her—in 1754. Theüs remarried, to a widow named Eva Rosanna Hilt, probably around September 1755, when he purchased a brick house on the northeast corner of Mazyck (now Logan) and Broad streets. He and Eva had four children.5

A year after remarrying, Theüs painted and gilded the 186-foot-tall steeple of St. Michael’s Church in Charleston. On November 28, 1756, the commissioners of this Anglican congregation paid him seventy-seven pounds ten shillings for his labor and for supplies. The receipt shows that the artist required thirty books of gold leaf to gild the ball, point, and lightning rods atop the steeple and twelve more books for the vane. In addition to the gilding, Theüs was paid for painting the weather vane and steeple.6 The artist contributed fifty pounds to the building fund for the new church, where he later owned a pew.7

Only a small percentage of the approximately two hundred portraits Theüs painted in Charleston and the surrounding areas, including Georgetown, South Carolina, and Savannah, are signed and dated. His clientele consisted of leading families in Carolina society: the Balls, Elliotts, Gibbeses, Heywards, Manigaults, Mazycks, and Ravenels, as well James Habersham (1715–1775), who served as acting colonial governor of Georgia from 1771 to 1773. In July 1772 Habersham wrote to Theüs, "I received your Letter of the 8th instant by Capt Churchill, with all my Family Pictures, besides Mr Wylly’s, and Mrs Crookes, Coll Jones’ Grandchild, and two for Mr Clay, which are all delivered—I have also your account for my 7 Pictures, amounting to Three Hundred and twenty Pounds South Carolina Currency, which I shall order to be paid you."8

Figure 1. Jeremiah Theüs, Elizabeth Martin Motte (Mrs. Jacob Motte), about 1755, watercolor on ivory, 1 3/8 x 1 1/4 in. (3.5 x 3.2 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, Purchase, Edgar William and Bernice Garbisch, by exchange, 1997. (1997.340). All rights reserved, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Copyright notice.

Typically, Theüs painted bust-length portraits measuring approximately thirty by twenty-five inches, although throughout his career he also created smaller bust portraits. For example, the paired portraits Dr. Lionel Chalmers and Martha Logan Chalmers (Mrs. Lionel Chalmers) (both 1756, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) measure only 16 1/2 x 14 1/4 inches. Theüs also painted miniatures, for instance, Elizabeth Martin Motte (Mrs. Jacob Motte) (fig. 1) and William Branford (about 1770, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Bogert Guerard, Charleston, as of 1996).9

In 1757 he produced the first of only three larger compositions, a three-quarter-length portrait entitled Elizabeth Wragg Manigault (Mrs. Peter Manigault) (Charleston Museum); it measures about fifty by forty inches. The sitter’s husband commissioned the work to serve as a companion piece to his own likeness (unlocated), which Allan Ramsay (1713–1784) had painted early in 1751, when Manigault was studying in London.10 In that portrait, Manigault is standing and turned toward our left. Theüs positioned Elizabeth turned toward our right. She wears a white dress trimmed with pearls, a blue bow, and a blue shawl. The backdrop consists of a curtain, column, wall, and landscape. Manigault was quite aware of Theüs when he sat for Ramsay. Sending the Ramsay work home in April 1751, he wrote his mother an accompanying letter, in which he noted that:

[My portrait is] done by one of the best Hands in England, and is accounted by all Judges here, not only an Exceeding good Likeness, but a very good Piece of Painting. . . . I desire Mr Theus may see it, as soon as convenient after it arrives. . . . I’ll be extremely obliged to you, if you’ll let me know his Judgement; You’ll also tell me if you think any Part of it to gay, the Ruffles are done charmingly, and exactly like the Ruffles I had on when I was drawn, you see my Taste in Dress by the Picture, for everything there, is what I had the Pleasure of wearing often.11

Manigault clearly was gratified that Ramsay had painted him wearing his own clothes, skillfully depicting details in the lace and ruffles. He probably knew that Theüs usually copied the costumes of his sitters from mezzotints, hence his emphasis that "everything there, is what I had the Pleasure of wearing often." Although a mezzotint source has not been identified for Elizabeth Manigault’s costume and pose, it is likely that Theüs relied on prints for this ambitious composition.

Figure 2. Jeremiah Theüs, Mary Elizabeth Bellinger Elliott (Mrs. Barnard Elliott, Jr.), about 1766, oil on canvas, 50 1/4 x 40 1/4 in. (127.6 x 102.2 cm), Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina, Bequest of Mrs. Alexina I.C. Holmes.

Theüs’s only other attempts at large portraits of adult sitters, Barnard Elliott, Jr. (Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston) and Mary Elizabeth Bellinger Elliott (Mrs. Barnard Elliott, Jr.) (fig. 2), probably painted about the time the couple were married in 1766, are based on mezzotints. However, for his portrait of Mary Elliott, he selected parts of an undated mezzotint by James Watson (1740–1790) after the Francis Cotes (1726–1770) portrait Ann, Lady Fortescue (about 1762–63, British Museum). The sitter’s pose, including the hand that fingers the knotted and tasseled sash at the waist, is lifted directly from the Fortescue print.12 Although Theüs copied the sash and jeweled fastenings on the dress for the portrait of Mary Elliott, he added ermine trim, flowers in the hair, and two large garnet bracelets, and he substituted the unusual garnet necklace for the strands of intertwined pearls. It is impossible to know whether Mrs. Elliott actually owned this distinctive jewelry. Although at least one Charleston jeweler, Philip Tidyman, is known to have had garnet items for sale around the time this work was painted, Theüs easily could have referred to another print or painting for the jewelry, as he probably did for the ermine.13 He used the ermine trim, sash, and jeweled fastenings from the dress seen in Mary Elizabeth Bellinger Elliott (Mrs. Barnard Elliott, Jr.) in a number of other portraits.14 Pearls around the neck, in the hair, and around the bodice and on the sleeves of a sitter’s dress were less likely to belong to the sitter.15 For instance, the Theüs portraits of Catherine Cordes Prioleau (Mrs. Samuel Prioleau III) (about 1766, United Missouri Bancshares Inc., Kansas City, Missouri) and Henrietta Isabella Sommers Dart (Mrs. John Dart) (about 1772, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) are practically identical, including the five strands of pearls at the neck and the two strands of pearls looped over the bodice.

The art historian Martha Severens points out how Theüs’s repeated borrowings from English mezzotint portraits resulted in female sitters with almost identical poses and costume. Frequently, even the folds and shadows in the dress are the same. The portraits Sarah Parker Lowndes (Mrs. Charles Lowndes) (about 1754–63, Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston), and Elizabeth Allston Lynch (Mrs. Thomas Lynch) (1755, Reynolda House, Winston-Salem, North Carolina), and Susannah Holmes (Mrs. Thomas Bee) (1757, Charleston Museum) all were based on the 1752 mezzotint Elizabeth, Duchess of Hamilton (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven), engraved by Richard Houston (about 1721–1776) after a portrait by Francis Cotes. The portraits, however, are not identical to the mezzotint or to each other. For instance, in the Susannah Holmes picture, Theüs changed the bodice by adding a bow and a strand of pearls; also, the sitter’s face and body are both turned to the right instead of the left.16 Although he made further changes in the portraits Mary Magdalen Prioleau Grimball (Mrs. Thomas Grimball) (n.d., unlocated) and Mary Mazyck (Mrs. William Mazyck) (n.d., Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston), he did refer to the Duchess of Hamilton print for the sleeves of their dresses.

In terms of originality, Theüs’s male sitters typically fared no better than his female ones. For men, he selected from a few stock poses, such as the hand tucked in the waistcoat, seen in James Skirving (about 1766, Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston). This gesture enabled Theüs to avoid painting hands but to render instead the linen cuff at the sitter’s sleeve and a bit of the wrist. He varied this pose by placing a hat under the sitter’s arm, as in James Skirving, Jr. (about 1766, Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston). Theüs also favored the bust-portrait format used in Portrait of a Man (Probably Isaac Holmes) with the sitter facing front, his body turned slightly to one side, and no hands visible.

There are about twenty extant Theüs portraits of children. These exhibit more variety than his likenesses of adults. In Ralph Izard (about 1753, Mr. and Mrs. William E. Hrger, Sr., as of 1975), the subject holds a large tricorn hat under his arm, as do some of Theüs’s adult males, but the painter also positioned the boy in a landscape in this full-length portrait.17 In his smaller portrait of Barnard Elliott, Jr., as a young boy (about 1750, Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston), the sitter holds a fishing line and hook. Little Alice Hayne (about 1760, Katherine Barrett Murphy, as of 1975) holds an acorn for a squirrel that sits atop a marble table, and the subject of Peggy Wagner (about 1750–60, Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, Savannah) holds a piece of fruit.18

Although individualized to some extent, the faces of Theüs’s sitters—whether male or female, young or adult—often share so many characteristics that they appear nearly the same. Close-set eyes, long noses, full upturned lips, and dimpled chins, as in the portrait Sarah Procter Daniel Wilson (Mrs. Algernon Wilson) (1756, Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winston-Salem, North Carolina), are typical. These comparatively plain faces are often in marked contrast with the female sitters’ elaborate costumes—trimmed with bows, lace, flowers, and jewelry—and the colorful coats and waistcoats of his male sitters.

Theüs was commissioned to copy existing portraits for certain clients. For example, his Christiana Broughton (Mrs. Daniel Dwight) (1747, Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston) was a copy of a pastel of Broughton by Henrietta Johnston (active about 1705–29), painted about 1715 (private collection). When Manigault wrote his mother about the Ramsay portrait in 1751, he mentioned a group of Carolinians who chose another artist, William Keable (about 1714–1774), to render their likenesses.19 The art historian Ellen Miles has suggested that the portrait of Benjamin Smith (n.d., Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, St. Joseph, Missouri), now attributed to John Wollaston (active 1742–75) might in fact be by Keable. A Theüs likeness of Benjamin Smith (n.d., Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston) appears to be a copy of the work in the Albrecht-Kemper Museum.20 In contrast to the skillfully rendered hand in that picture, the hand in the Theüs is awkwardly tucked in the waistcoat–in a fashion typical of the artist. Theüs also did two nearly identical portraits of a man who is probably Isaac Holmes; besides the one in the Worcester Art Museum the Charleston Museum owns another, likewise signed and dated 1755, which might be copies of an earlier Keable canvas.

Ann Ashby Manigault (1705–1782), the mother of Peter Manigault and wife of the wealthy Charleston planter and merchant Gabriel Manigault (1704–1781), recorded having sat for Theüs on April 14 and 22 and May 19, 1757. She also noted that her husband posed for the artist on April 15, along with their daughter-in-law Elizabeth Wragg Manigault, and that her husband sat again on April 23; the three portraits were delivered on July 16.21 Theüs’s working method for Ann Ashby Manigault (Mrs. Gabriel Manigault) (1757, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) suggests that he probably painted her face from life in the first two sittings before working on the costume in the studio, perhaps from a mezzotint.

Theüs often employed the cabinetmaker Thomas Elfe to make frames (typically mahogany), stretchers, and packing cases for his portraits. Elfe’s account book includes many entries for these items charged to Theüs from 1768 to 1775.22

The only artist to give Theüs any competition during his three decades in Charleston was the English-trained portraitist John Wollaston, who arrived there by September 1765.23 Like Theüs, he frequently borrowed poses and costumes from mezzotints and also used the same composition and costume for various sitters. Although Wollaston was only in Charleston for about two years before returning to England, he may well have influenced Theüs. For instance, as noted, there are at least six Theüs portraits of women wearing dresses trimmed with ermine—as Wollaston did in Ann Gibbes (Mrs. Edward Thomas) (1767) —yet Wollaston was using ermine at least ten years before he arrived in South Carolina.24 The Englishman’s frequent inclusion in his portraits of a marble table, again in the Ann Gibbes likeness, might have appealed to Theüs as well; his Elizabeth Jane Ravenel (Mrs. Daniel Ravenel) (n.d., private collection), among several other portraits, contains a marble tabletop in the lower-right corner upon which the sitter rests her left arm. Both elements—the ermine-trimmed dresses and marble tabletops—first appear in work Theüs produced while Wollaston was in Charleston.

The artist’s death in Charleston on May 17, 1774, was noted in at least three local papers, including the South Carolina and American General Gazette, which referred to "Mr. Jeremiah Theus, Limner, an ingenious Artist, and an honest Man."25 The South Carolina Gazette published the most detailed note: "On Wednesday last died, a very ingenious and honest Man, Mr. Jeremiah Theus, who had followed the Business of a Portrait-Painter here upwards of 30 Years."26 His will, dated September 15, 1770, and including a codicil added on March 14, 1774, directed that his pictures, prints, paints, and books were to be sold to benefit his family. At the sale of his estate, an enterprising Charleston man, Edward Oats, purchased "a great many PORTRAITS of Men, Women, and Children" and placed an advertisement in hopes of finding interested buyers. The results of Oats’s effort are not known. The financial success Theüs achieved as a portraitist is reflected in his assets at his death: Besides his house in Charleston, he owned 200 acres in Orangeburgh Township, a town lot in Orangeburgh, and seven slaves. His cash holdings totaled nearly 3,000 pounds. He had already given 2,100 pounds to the children of his first marriage.27

1. For Theüs, see Middleton 1953. Building on the research of Theüs scholar Margaret Simons Middleton, Worcester Art Museum curator Louisa Dresser determined the date and place of Theüs’s birth; see Dresser 1958, 43–44.

2. For the settlement of townships, including Orangeburgh, see Middleton 1953, 14–22. According to Middleton, the land grant to "Simon Thysi" was dated September 17, 1736, and it is the same land as that described in a 1770 deed from Jeremiah Theüs to Henry Felder. Middleton 1953, 23.

3. South-Carolina Gazette, August 30–September 6, 1740.

4. South-Carolina Gazette, October 22, 1744. The advertisement appeared again on October 29 and November 5, 1744.

5. Theüs’s wife was buried in the graveyard of the First Presbyterian Church, commonly known as the Scots Church. The epitaph on her gravestone reads: "In hopes of Glorious Resurrection/Lies here interred the body of Mrs. Cathrina Elizabeth Theus/ Wife of Mr. Jeremiah Theus/Who departed this life in Child Bed of her Sixth Child, Nov. 8th 1754/ In the 29th Year of Her Age." Middleton 1953, 39–43, 173–83. For Theüs’s house, see South-Carolina Gazette, September 2, 1773.

6. Bill, November 28, 1756, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church Papers Commissioners Bills, 1751–62, Ib folder 7, from the South Carolina Historical Society Collections, Charleston. I thank Elise Pinckney for providing me with these references.

7. For Theüs’s building-fund contribution, see St. Michael’s Episcopal Church Papers Commissioners Business, 1751–67, Ia folder 7 (filed with subscriptions for building), from the South Carolina Historical Collections, Charleston. In his will, Theüs mentions "my Pew in the South Gallery of Saint Michael’s Parish Church Charlestown aforesaid distinguished by the Number (one hundred & two)." Will of Jeremiah Theüs, South Carolina Wills, vol. 16, 161–67, South Carolina Archives, Charleston.

8. Hon. James Habersham, Governor, Savannah, Georgia, to Jeremiah Theüs, Charleston, July 31, 1772, James Habersham Papers, Georgia Historical Society, Collection 337, folder 8, Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society. The Habersham portrait (about 1772) is in the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, Savannah.

9. For William Branford, see South Carolina Portraits, 430.

10. Saunders and Miles 1987, 185. For a photograph of Ramsay’s portrait of Peter Manigault, see Saunders and Miles 1987, 48.

11. Peter Manigault, London, to Ann Ashby Manigault, Charleston, April 15, 1751, as quoted in Webber 1930, 277–78.

12. For the Fortescue print, see Severens 1985, 64, 67. Besides suggesting here that Theüs looked at an engraving by James Macardell (about 1728/29–1765) of Thomas Hudson’s portrait of George, Viscount Townshend, Severens wrote that Theüs might have referred to Ramsay’s portrait of Peter Manigault for his likeness of Barnard Elliott, Jr. (68).

13. Fales 1990, 1218. For Tidyman’s South-Carolina Gazette, see Fales 1995, 36.

14. This group of portraits also includes: Henrietta Isabella Sommers (Mrs. John Dart) (about 1772, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Anne Livingston Champneys (Mrs. John Champneys) (n.d., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston), Sara Vinson Skirving (Mrs. James Skirving, Jr.) (about 1766–68, Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston), and Catherine Cordes Prioleau (Mrs. Samuel Prioleau III) (about 1766, United Missouri Bancshares Inc., Kansas City, Missouri).
Theüs’s Susannah Branford Hayne (Mrs. Abraham Hayne) (about 1766, Mrs. Thomas Heard Robertson, as of 1975), Ann Hutchinson Skirving (Mrs. William Skirving) (about 1769, Mrs. Ben Rankin Morris, Columbia, South Carolina, as of 1996), and Frances Warren (about 1769, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri) lack the ermine but wear similar dresses.

Although Martha Severens wrote that a mezzotint source for this group of portraits has not been found (1985, 60, 62), it is possible that Theüs referred to the Fortescue print for the sash and jeweled fastenings and to another print for the ermine. Another version of the Duchess of Hamilton print (British Museum) that he used for an earlier group of portraits was engraved showing ermine. See O’Donoghue 1908, I, 69.

15. Fales 1995, 10, 11, 42.

16. Severens 1985, 59–60.

17. For Ralph Izard, see Early Georgia Portraits, 110.

18. For Alice Hayne and Peggy Wagner, see Early Georgia Portraits, 96, 242.

19. Webber, 1930, 278.

20. Gibbes Museum of Art 1999, 94–95.

21. Ann Ashby Manigault’s diary entries are transcribed in Webber 1919, 128–29. The portrait of Gabriel Manigault is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and as noted, the full-length likeness of Elizabeth Wragg Manigault (Mrs. Peter Manigault) is in the Charleston Museum.

22. See Webber 1936, 155; and Prime 1929, I, 166.

23. For Wollaston in Charleston, see Webber 1919a, 209.

24. Wollaston added ermine trim to two portraits of Maryland sitters: the ermine is looped around the front of both dresses in Elizabeth Calvert (Mrs. Benedict Calvert) (1754, Baltimore Museum of Art) and Eleanor Carroll (Mrs. Daniel Carroll) (n.d., private collection).

25. South-Carolina and American General Gazette, May 13–20, 1774. See also South-Carolina Gazette; and Country Journal, May 24, 1774.

26. South-Carolina Gazette, May 23, 1774.

27. For the sale, see South-Carolina and American General Gazette, September 9–16, 1774. Regarding the will, there is unfortunately, no record of the date that the document was proved or recorded. Moore 1969, 221–22. According to Theüs scholar Margaret Simons Middleton, the children of Theüs’s first marriage contested the will, arguing that the husband of their stepmother, Eva Rosanna Theüs, was still alive when she married Jeremiah Theüs. She chose not to argue and accepted a settlement of seven thousand pounds. Middleton 1953, 50–52.