Sutcliffe Maudsley was one of only three known portrait artists living in Nauvoo, Illinois, in the early 1840s. His life was typical of many early Latter-day Saint converts who emigrated from England to Nauvoo, but his contributions to the community and to history were unique. His works are historically and artistically significant to the understanding of early Latter-day Saint history and culture. Maudsley's portraits of Joseph Smith Jr. and other early Church leaders and personalities are rare for this period. In spite of Maudsley's limited art training, his portraits are exceptional in capturing the likeness of his subjects.
Sutcliffe and Elizabeth Maudsley’s life together was filled with poverty and illness. Sutcliffe suffered from severe asthma for most of his adult life. Six of their twelve children died before they reached adulthood. Life in industrial Lancashire County, England, where the couple lived before emigrating to Nauvoo, was especially difficult.
Maudsley’s artistic abilities became almost immediately known in Nauvoo. It was just over two months after his arrival in 1842 that he drew a profile portrait of the Prophet Joseph Smith to be used on a map of the city. Little did the thirty–three–year–old Maudsley know that Joseph’s likeness would become one of just a handful of original images of the Prophet and would create a place in history for him as an artist. This first portrait of Joseph Smith taken from life would serve as the source for Maudsley's many other paintings and drawings of the Prophet and as the model for images by generations of other artists.
"Sat for the drawing of my profile to be placed on a lithograph of the map of the city of Nauvoo."
"History of the Church," 25 June 1842. This note is the first documented reference to a work by Sutcliffe Maudsley in Nauvoo.
Sutcliffe Maudsley was born in the heart of England’s thriving textile district. He descended from generations of weavers, cutters, and printers. Maudsley began work in the mills at around six years of age, undoubtedly as a child laborer who helped supplement the family income. As a young boy, he demonstrated some talent in drawing and was "bound out" to learn art. He later became a skilled calico pattern maker and designer in the textile mills. In addition, by the time he emigrated to Nauvoo, he must have also learned the basic elements of profile portrait drawing.
“He worked in a factory from six years of age to the time he left England.”
Elizabeth Culverwell Ellgen, granddaughter
Sutcliffe and Elizabeth Maudsley were among the early British converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints. In 1837, the missionaries began teaching among the textile workers of Lancashire County where the Maudsley’s lived. When the Tottington Branch of the Church was organized in July 1841, Maudsley was ordained a priest and called as an officer of this small congregation. In February 1842, the family left to join with the Saints in Nauvoo.
The prospect of beginning a new life with the large body of Saints gathering in Illinois attracted many emigrants who had lived under harsh conditions in England. In April 1840, members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles under the direction of Brigham Young met in Preston and introduced the idea of the gathering of Saints to Zion.
At Nauvoo the Maudsleys found a bustling city that would eventually grow to more than eleven thousand residents. Life in Nauvoo for the Maudsleys, as for many poor immigrant families, was difficult. The climate and general living conditions were often harsh, especially for someone who suffered from severe asthma. Even with these difficulties, Sutcliffe was an active artist in Nauvoo between 1842 and 1846. Along with portrait painters William W. Major and Selah Van Sickle, he created important images of people living in Nauvoo.
In Nauvoo, Maudsley had greater opportunity than he would have had in England. Within months of arriving, he was asked to make a likeness of the most significant figure of the city, the Prophet himself. Maudsley did not become wealthy, but he was sought after and was able to associate with the leaders of the community and the Church.
After arriving in Nauvoo, the Maudsley family initially took up residence near the home of Joseph Smith. Family biographies tell of Sutcliffe's great love for Joseph and the Smith family, and it was perhaps this love for the family that resulted in many portraits of the Smiths. The paintings in this section are rare visual records that document the Smith family and other citizens of Nauvoo. Little is known about how these portraits were commissioned and displayed, but their importance to the historical record is critical.
Maudsley’s known works include a small number of portraits of unknown individuals. His descendants have preserved these portraits, although the identity of the subjects has been lost. These people were probably residents of Nauvoo at the same time that Maudsley was actively painting the more well known Smith family portraits. As a portrait artist, Maudsley undoubtedly accepted commissions from local residents to supplement the family income. These portraits are exquisitely drawn and demonstrate how capable Maudsley was at rendering detail to create the exact likeness of his subject.
Joseph and Hyrum Smith were martyred in the Carthage Jail in June 27, 1844. Their untimely death was a shock to the Latter–day Saints and especially to the people of Nauvoo where Joseph and Hyrum lived. Consequently, Maudsley’s images of Joseph and Hyrum became very popular with the Saints. Maudsley would have likely been busy producing copies from his original drawings to fill requests. This would have provided badly needed income for his family. The multiple sets of similar Maudsley works in existence attest to their popularity in a ready market.