An obscure figure in history, Budington is one of the most notable Connecticut naïve painters of the late-eighteenth century. (The most thorough treatment of Budington is Arthur and Sybil Kern, “Jonathan Budington: Face Maker,” Folk Art 22 [Fall 1997], pp. 41–49.) Budington was the son of Walter and Ruth Couch Budington of Fairfield, Connecticut, and was baptized in 1779 at Fairfield’s Congregational Church. He married Sarah Peck in nearby New Haven in 1820, had one child, Ruth Ann, the following year, and died on January 21, 1823, of unknown causes. All of Budington’s known works are of Connecticut subjects, with about half of them from the immediate Fairfield area. Based on surviving works, Budington was active from at least 1792 to 1802. Curiously, New York city directories list a Jonathan Budington, portrait painter, for the years 1800–05 and 1809–12, and William Dunlap, in his History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States, noted that “Buddington [sic] painted portraits in New York, 1798” (1834, reprint ed. New York: Dover Publications, 1969, p. 470). Despite the above facts, no works from an apparent New York period survive.
In fact, only a handful of works by Budington have come to light. One of his-best known pictures is View of Cannon House and Wharf, a landscape view the harbor of Norwalk, Connecticut, painted in 1792 for John Cannon, Jr., who owned extensive property in Norwalk.
Though details of Budington’s career are scarce, he is an important early exponent of what might be called the “Ralph Earl School” of Connecticut portraiture. Ralph Earl (1751–1801) was active throughout the state of Connecticut, and was intermittently active in Fairfield County from 1788 to 1798. As a result, Earl’s work was well represented in Fairfield homes, and there can be little doubt that Budington was aware of them. Budington on a few occasions painted portraits for former patrons of Earl, including both the Hubbell, Burr, and Nichols families. In fact, Budington’s 1802 portraits of John and Mary Hill Nichols are copies of earlier works by Earl painted in 1795.