One of the most distinctive portrait artists of the new Republic, the Beardsley Limner's limited but characteristic group of portraits forms one of the most important contributions to American 18th century non-academic painting. The body of work attributed to the Beardsley Limner consists of at least fifteen portraits of Connecticut and Massachusetts individuals, couples and children, and includes the defining portrait pair now in the collection of Yale University Art Gallery, Dr. Hezekiah and Elizabeth (Davis) Beardsley. Other portraits by the artist are in the collections of the Abby Aldrich Rockeller Folk Art Center, the Montclair Musuem of Art, Princeton University Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Art, where the portrait of Joseph Wheeler's brother, Charles Adams Wheeler, now resides.
Identified possibly as Sarah Perkins (1771-1831), a pastel portrait artist working in the New Haven and Plainfield, Connecticut, area, the evidence supporting her identity as the unknown artist is compelling. In addition to specific similarities of style and execution, such as the consistent equal almond-shape of the eyes, the characteristic manner of shading the backgrounds of the portraits, the choppy manner of delineating bangs, as seen on Joseph Wheeler, the rich, creamy-jewel manner of applying the paint to canvas recalls the quality of pastel work as well. Albeit circumstantial, it is a further link between Perkins and the Beardsley Limner that most of the members of her family were either graduates of Yale College, doctors or both, as were most of the known subjects of the Beardsley Limner's portraits. The medical and academic communities of New Haven and Plainfield, Connecticut, were not so large that Sarah Perkins would not have known these individuals (see, Heslip and Kellogg, "The Beardsley Limner Identified as Sarah Perkins," Antiques (September 1984), pp. 548-565.)
Retaining its original black-painted and gilt-detailed frame, the portrait of Joseph Wheeler seen here is an important pendant to the portrait of his younger brother, Charles Adam Wheeler, now in the National Gallery of Art. Both painted circa 1790 and therefore among the earlier works associated with the Beardsley Limner's production, each sitter is portrayed in a similar garnet colored suit, holding books under the right arm and a hat in the left hand. Each portrait employs the device of a draped curtain on the upper right corner of the portrait. The portrait of Joseph Wheeler seen here has the addition of a window and exterior view, seen on several other portraits by the Beardsley Limner, and lacking in the portrait of Charles Adam Wheeler. Born in Sudbury, Massachusetts in 1780, Joseph Wheeler was the son of Elijah and Mary Adams Wheeler. In 1801, he moved to Keene, New Hampshire, where he died in 1826.