Portrait of the Artist

Custodian With a dry mop in a hallway

By Mary Rose Boswell, Executive Director, Heritage Frederick | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 07.01.17 

John Johnston Markell was only 17 years old when he painted this self-portrait in 1838 in Philadelphia. Even at an early age, he clearly knew who he was. In this painting, he holds in his hand several brushes to identify himself as an artist. By 1839, at the age of 18, he was living in Leesburg, Va., and advertising his services as a “Portraits and Landscape Painter.”

Markell was born in 1821, the son of Samuel and Amelia Schley Markell. His great-grandfather, John Thomas Schley, was one of Frederick’s first settlers. Markell was self-taught as a painter and his accomplishments as an artist are especially inspiring because he lived to be only 23. Although he died at an early age, he left behind at least eleven portraits, seven landscapes, one lithograph and three other paintings for us to study and enjoy today. This portrait and one of his landscapes are currently on view in Heritage Frederick’s Museum of Frederick County History.

To recognize the work of this young artist, Heritage Frederick holds an annual contest to encourage high school students who live or attend school in Frederick County to depict, through art, an aspect of the county’s history. The contest is funded by the John Markell Memorial Art Contest Fund, administered by the Community Foundation of Frederick County, with additional support from the Frederick Art Club. Cash prizes are awarded to three winners. To learn more, visit Heritage Frederick’s Museum of Frederick County History and Frederick County Archives and Research Center at 24 E. Church St. The museum and library are open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. For details, call 301-663-1188.

Frederick Magazine