Search the Collection
Advanced Search

James Jackson Jarves

American, 1818 - 1888

"James Jackson Jarves was born Aug. 20, 1818, the son of Deming Jarves, founder of the famous Sandwich Glass Co., and Anna Smith (Stutson) Jarves. After his early education at Chauncey Hall school, Boston, Mass., he planned to continue studies at Harvard University. Because of failing eye sight however, he was unable to attend. In search of a better climate for his health, Jarves sailed for Hawaii in 1837. He stayed in Hawaii until 1848 except for two brief interludes, one in 1838 when he returned to Boston to marry his first wife, Elizabeth Russell Swain; and the second in 1842 when the Jarves family returned to Boston after a silk worm industry in Hawaii, in which Jarves held a partnership, went bankrupt.

Although Jarves' business adventures in Hawaii were more often than not unsuccessful, he met with limited success as a writer and editor. In 1843 he wrote the History of the Hawaiian Islands, and in 1840 he established The Polynesian, one of the first Hawaiian newspapers to be written in English. In 1844 The Polynesian became the official governmental newspaper and Jarves, with a five year contract, received the title of Director of the Government Press.

An unhappy marriage caused Jarves to break with his wife in 1848, leave his governmental position, and return to America for three years where he again participated in a disastrous business adventure, this time involving land speculation in California.

In 1851 the Jarves' family (then reunited) settled in Florence, Italy, and there Jarves developed an interest in art - specifically in medieval Italian paintings. Using his father's income, he amassed a collection of paintings that, covering a period of 600 years, exhibited the progress of Italian painting from its early beginnings. As with his previous business endeavors, his art collection was never financially profitable for him. Jarves decided to sell his collection "en bloc" in America, but he could not find a buyer. After several unsuccessful attempts to sell his collection in Boston and New York City (1859-1866), he was finally able to display his collection at Yale College in 1867 for a loan of $20,000.00. Unable to repay the loan and $2,000.00 interest three years later, he was forced to auction his collection. It was sold to Yale for $22,000.00.

From the time that he settled in Florence until his death in 1888, Jarves' primary interest was art. Not only was he responsible for amassing a valuable European art collection and transporting it to the United States, but he was also a contributor to the art scholarship of the time. He wrote several books, including: Art Hints (1855); Art Studies: The Old Masters of Italy (1861); The Art Idea: Sculpture, Painting, and Architecture in America (1866); Art Thoughts: The Experiences and Observations of an American Amateur in Europe (1876)."