Portrait painter John Bradley may have been the John Bradley of unlisted profession who arrived in New York from Ireland in August 1826, aboard the ship Carolina Ann. Bradley was active in New York, Staten Island, and New Jersey from 1832 to 1847. Bradley’s earliest and best known painting, The Cellist, which is signed twice “I. Bradley Deli 1832” and I. J. H. Bradley 1832” is one of the earliest works in The Phillips Collection. Although this work is considerably smaller in size than Bradley's other works, it is his only full-length portrait.
It is likely that Bradley was a self-trained artist, though his early work suggests the traditions of British portraiture. Bradley’s naïve style is flat and distinguished by clearly defined forms, deep colors, and strong tonal contrasts. He shows his figures in poses typical of their rank or profession; often they are formally placed within a defined space. The faces are individualized, and clothing and other objects are richly detailed. Bradley’s compositions reveal a fondness for decorative detail, as he often portrayed his sitters with defining attributes, for example, in the Phillips’s painting; a musician grasps his instrument, a bass violin, and the bow. In other works, Bradley would depict a child with a cherished toy or a surveyor holding his measuring instruments. All the known paintings by Bradley date between 1832 and 1847.