Joseph Jefferson (1829-1905)
Landscape painter, Joseph Jefferson IV came from a family of actor-painters. His father and grandfather, Joseph Jefferson II and III were both actor-painters, however Joseph Jefferson IV was the most well-known. He started at the young age of four (1833). He continued to act for over seventy years and was best remembered for his role as Rip van Winkle. He passed away in Palm Beach, Florida where he painted during the latter years of his life.
Recent Article from Palm Beach Daily News (May 12, 2011)
The Gilded Age is too often remembered for its lavish extravagance rather than the era’s larger-than-life characters, among them, one of Palm Beach and West Palm Beach’s most generous benefactors, the renowned actor Joseph Jefferson (1829-1905).
During his last decade, Jefferson — “the idol of his age” — lived in Palm Beach. In between his theatrical seasons, and after selling his Louisiana plantation, Philadelphian Jefferson “left the limelight for the sunshine,” where he could “paint, write, garden, and fish,” as well as spend time with his close friend Henry Flagler.
Jefferson and his family settled into their oceanfront villa, The Reef. If he wasn’t at the inlet fishing for blues and snappers, he was painting a sunset over Lake Worth or the splendor of the Everglades.
Every February, the island’s social titans, visiting royals, generals and Flagler congregated at Rêve d’Été, Charles and Frances Cragin’s Garden of Eden estate, for Jefferson’s birthday breakfast. For a select few, being in Jefferson’s company eclipsed the Washington Birthday Ball as the island’s most coveted invitation.
While his worldwide stage performances met with standing ovations — he was best known for his portrayal of Rip Van Winkle — in Palm Beach he was seen every day riding around in his wheelchair, pedaled by his valet, Carl Kettler. The Tropical Sun newspaper recalled, “Everyone in town knew him and he acknowledged all; his genial nature made him first in the hearts of all.”
Jefferson appreciated the island’s incomparable natural beauty, once stating, “If I am to go, let it be in Florida, Palm Beach, with the sound of the breakers.”
And when the time came, April 23, 1905, schools and shops closed, flags flew at half-mast, and his life’s work was proclaimed from Palm Beach’s Town Hall to the White House. More than 100 of Jefferson’s fellow Masons accompanied the family to the nearby train stop at The Breakers where they were met by railway car No. 90, Henry Flagler’s private car. When the funeral cortege left The Breakers and crossed the railroad bridge, Bethesda-by-the-Sea’s church bells were in concert with West Palm’s extended fire alarm bells.
Never had Palm Beach and West Palm Beach shared the enormous power of loss as they did when Jefferson died.
In praising him, The Tropical Sun quoted his most famous line as Rip Van Winkle: “Are we soon forgot when we are gone?”
Then it went on to rhapsodize: “The world does easily forget and the rapid river of time will sweep into oblivion many names and things conspicuous, but as long as kindness remains on Earth, the name Joseph Jefferson will be remembered in Palm Beach.”