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Treasury Notes

 From the Treasury Vault

By: Richard Cote

A few weeks ago, we started a new series, “From the Treasury Vault,” to highlight online some of the more than 3,000 pieces from Treasury’s collection of paintings, prints and photographs, furniture, decorative arts, sculpture, and architectural fragments. Today, in our second installment, we’re featuring some of the portraits that hang in the Treasury building. In addition to portraits of all 74 previous Treasury Secretaries, the collection includes other historic portraits, with these three among them: 

Portrait of Edward S. Lacey (1835 – 1916)

President Benjamin Harrison appointed Edward Lacey Comptroller of the Currency in 1889. As the seventh official to hold that position, he served until 1892. This portrait is the only one of a Treasury Comptroller in the portrait collection, which is composed predominantly of individuals who have served as Secretary of the Treasury. Painted more than 10 years after Lacey was Comptroller, it is not known how the Lacey portrait became part of the Treasury collection. The painting is framed with one of the more decorative frames in the portrait collection.

Signed and dated “Vunnoly 1905 - ", 1905. Oil on canvas, American, 46” x 43 3/16” x 4 ½”. P.1905.1.2 

Portrait of Stephen Girard (1750 – 1831)

Stephen Girard is best known today as the founder of Girard College in Philadelphia, originally a school for orphans. He also was a leading financier of the War of 1812 and a noted Philadelphia banker, philanthropist and patriot. In 1814, Girard provided a generous loan of more than $8 million to the U.S. Treasury to assist in financing the War of 1812 effort. When the interest on the public debt could not be repaid, Girard agreed to accept payment in Treasury notes. The portrait was painted posthumously by artist Bass Otis, who had previously painted Girard from life. It is one of five portraits painted immediately after Girard's death and distributed to family members and colleagues. It was presented to the Treasury Department in 2004 by a descendant, as a testimony to Girard's role in Treasury history, and currently hangs in the Secretary’s Reception Room.

Bass Otis was fascinated by all aspects of painting and science. Otis spent most of his early career in New York City completing his apprenticeship as a scythe-maker and working for the American artist John Wesley Jarvis. He moved to Philadelphia in 1812 and set up a studio at the corner of 3rd and Chestnut streets. It was here that he conceived his most famous invention, the "Perspective Protractor." Contemporary artist Rembrandt Peale called this device "an invaluable assistant to the artist." His technological and commercial successes have overshadowed acknowledgment of Otis's mastery of portraiture. In 1824 he was elected "Academician" of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. More than three hundred extant works have been discovered, evidence of his successful career. After moving up and down the east coast throughout his career, Otis settled in Philadelphia in 1858 and remained there until his death.

Artist: Bass Otis (1784 – 1861), American, Painted in 1832, Oil on board, 41” x 31 1/16” x 3 ¾”. P.2004.3. Gift of Henry A. Ingram

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865)

This Lincoln portrait, which hangs in the Secretary’s Large Conference Room at the Treasury Department, probably was originally an unfinished oil sketch done prior to 1861 when Lincoln had not yet grown a beard. The painting was finished by an unknown hand after that date, enhanced with alterations around the hairline and the addition of a beard. At the same time, the background, jacket and tie were repainted, and the shirt studs turned into a cross shape. These enhancements would have been in keeping with the more conventional image of the time: the war-torn, martyred president.

Behind the beard was still the face of the younger Lincoln. While the hairline was restored to its original appearance, the beard was left as found, since it was felt that trying to remove it would have damaged the original paint layer below and evidence was found of an original beard, although not in its later altered appearance.

The portrait’s history is documented in Philadelphia as early as 1896-1897, when it was presented to Central High School. According to a painting conservator that worked on the portrait, the portrait was then at least 30 years old when acquired by the high school. Early photographs of Lincoln by photographers Samuel G. Alschuler and Alexander Hesler in 1858 and 1860 could have been a visual source for the portrait which is framed in a period 1860 gilt frame.

Unsigned, the portrait is thought to be the work of James Reid Lambdin, who exhibited in and was the director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1845 to 1864 as well as a Professor of Fine Art at the University of Pennsylvania from 1861 to 1867. Lambdin’s work is represented in numerous museums and private collections.

Artist: James Reid Lambdin, possibly (1807 - 1889), painted 1864 – 1875. Oil on mahogany board, American, 57 x 58 x 17 ¾”. P. 2008.1. Gift of the Treasury Historical Association

Richard Cote is the Curator at the United States Treasury Department.

Posted in:  Curator
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