famous oil portraits

Between 1861 and 1873, E.C. Middleton of Cincinnati published a series oval “oil portraits,” intended to have the appearance of oil paintings.  This series consisted of images of at least seventeen different subjects, including thirteen “Portraits of American Statesmen and Heroes,” two religious figures, and two British royalty.   For many of these subjects there are variant issues of the prints.  Images of the portraits are shown below.

[ Story of E.C. Middleton’s National Oil Portraits | Our inventory of Middleton portraits ]

Prince Albert

 

Middleton Prince Albert

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

In 1866, Middleton produced a pair of portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  These are neither portraits of “Great National Characters” nor are they of religious figures who were of interest to many Americans at the time.  It is not at all clear why in 1866 Middleton chose to produce portraits of the British royal couple, especially as Albert had died five years previously in December 1861.  1866 was the year in which Queen Victoria came out of mourning seclusion in order to open Parliament, one of her first public appearances after Albert’s death.  Perhaps this might have created enough public interest in Victoria and Albert that Middleton thought his prints would find a market.  However, there does not seem to have been that much of a market, for the prints are perhaps the rarest of all the Middleton portraits.

As far as we have seen in our research, there is only one version of this print.

Alexander Campbell

 

Middleton Alexander Campbell
Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress

This is one of two portraits done by Middleton of a religious figure.  Middleton must have felt that there was a market for these prints, though the scarcity of the images compared to those of his “Great National Characters” suggests they did not sell that well.  The portrait of the Reverend Campbell was painted in October 1861 when he was in Cincinnati for a meeting of the American Christian Missionary Society, of which he was president.  The print became available to subscribers in June 1862, “the subscription price, including plate glass and a handsomely ornamented oval gilt frame, three inches wide, is Ten Dollars.  One dollar on each copy disposed of will be appropriated to the benefit of the American Christian Society.”

As far as we have seen in our research, there is only one version of this print.

Henry Clay

 

There are at least two variants of Middleton’s portrait of Henry Clay, one with a copyright date of 1863 and one with a copyright date of 1864.

Middleton Henry Clay
Photograph courtesy of U.S. Senate

The former has Clay looking almost straight on and was probably based on a photograph.

Middleton Henry Clay
Photograph courtesy of Cowan’s Auction

In the 1864 version Clay is looking more to his right and this was based on an 1842 portrait painted by John Neagle now in the National Portrait Gallery.

Interestingly, a write up on the Middleton portraits in the Fort Wayne Daily Gazette on May 26, 1866, stated “that of Henry Clay is taken from the last photograph of the distinguished statesman executed in Baltimore…the portrait of our loved Kentucky statesman, Henry Clay, will be treasured, because it shows him as he was near the close of his life, when the first of his eye was undimmed, but the general contour had been mellowed down by the touches of time upon his cherished features.”  The print copyrighted 1863, though probably based on a photograph, does not look like it shows Clay “near the close of his life,” and that version seems to have been replaced by the 1864 copyrighted print, so that is probably not the print mentioned in this 1866 article.  However, the 1864 print is not based on a photograph and it also does not show as an old man, so it is also isn’t the print mentioned in that article.  This may mean that there is a third variant portrait of Clay currently not yet documented.

Jefferson Davis

 

Middleton Jefferson Davis
Photograph courtesy of Kentucky Historical Society

Along with the print of Admiral Farragut, this is one of the last portraits added to Middleton’s National Oil Portraits series.  The print is copyrighted 1867, “in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court for the District of Kentucky.”  Though this was the year that Bising and Gerlach took over Middleton’s business, the print is copyrighted by E.C. Middleton & Co.  The print seems to be based on a Mathew Brady photograph.

It is likely there is only one version of this print.  However, there is a similar style print of Jefferson Davis in the National Portrait Gallery, which does not have any information on the verso and is of “lesser quality.”  Likely a copy-cat print by another publisher.

Stephen A. Douglas

 

Middleton Stephen A Douglas
Photograph courtesy of U.S. Senate

This image was likely based on a photograph from about 1858, possibly by Jesse H. Whitehurst. Middleton was able to get testimonials for this print from a number of people who knew Douglas, including his brother-in-law and his widow, Adile, who on March 8, 1864 wrote of the print that “I consider it an admirable likeness, and one that will please his friends.”

As far as we have seen in our research, there is only one version of this print.

David G. Farragut

 

Middleton Admiral Farragut
Photograph courtesy of Cowan’s Auction

Along with that of Jefferson Davis print, this is one of the last prints added to Middleton’s National Oil Portraits series.  The print is copyrighted “in the year 1867…in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.”  Though this was the year that Bising and Gerlach took over Middleton’s business, the print is copyrighted by E.C. Middleton & Co.

As far as we have seen in our research, there is only one version of this print.

Ulysses S. Grant

 

Grant first two versions

Grant was promoted to overall command of the Union Armies on March 3, 1864 and Middleton subsequently produced his first portrait of the general with a copyright of 1864. Either because he was not happy with its appearance, or perhaps because the original run of the portrait sold out, a second version of Grant’s portrait appeared also with an 1864 copyright date. The two versions are probably based on the same photograph, which shows a three star Grant looking to the left, with his uniform fully buttoned. One of the versions is slightly cruder than the other, but it impossible to know which came first.

Middleton Grant version 3
Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress

The following year a third variant was published, this one appearing both with an 1865 and an 1866 copyright date. This version shows Grant, facing a bit to the right, in a more formal uniform and with an open jacket and a bow tie.

For testimonials, Middleton was able to get one from family members both on January 14, 1865, “we feel free to say it is a most excellent likeness—representing his complexion very correctly and giving his impression true to life,” and another on February 5, 1866, in which they wrote “Your Portrait of Gen. U.S. Grant we regard as one of the best, if not THE BEST likeness of the General that has ever been offered to the public to our knowledge. It is perfectly natural and life-like.” It is possible Middleton went back to the family for the second testimonial when he issued the third variant.

Of interest is the fact that Middleton’s firm, when it was Howe & Middleton (1869-1872), again approached the Grant family for a testimonial. In 1889 Henry Howe wrote,
“One summer afternoon when GRANT was President [1869-77] I had the experience of a personal interview with his parents and with each alone. I had published in Cincinnati, my then residence, and in connection with the late E. C. MIDDLETON, a portrait in oil colors of GRANT, and crossed the river to Covington to show a copy to them and obtain their testimony as to its accuracy. I first called upon the old gentleman at the post-office. He invited me in behind the letters, and on looking at the portrait was highly pleased, pronouncing it the best he had seen, and was glad to so attest.”

It may be that this was in response to the issuing of a later, so-far unidentified fourth variant portrait of Grant.

Andrew Jackson

 

Middleton Andrew Jackson version 1

Andrew Jackson’s portrait was one of the first three chromolithographs Middleton issued, copyrighted in 1861 like those of the Washingtons. That Jackson print was based on a painting by Milner Kilbourne Kellogg (1814-1899), an author, traveler and artist from Cincinnati who was commissioned to paint Jackson’s portrait at the Hermitage in 1836.

Middleton Andrew Jackson version 2
Photograph courtesy of U.S. Senate

In 1864, Middleton issued a variant image, this one based on a portrait by John W. Dodge. Dodge’s original painting was a miniature on ivory done in 1842, which the artist stated was “the most correct and perfect picture I ever painted.” In 1843 Dodge’s image was engraved on steel by M.J. Danforth and it is likely that engraving, or one copied from it, was the source for Middleton’s new chromolithograph of Jackson.

Black Jack stamp

The second Middleton portrait of Jackson is not as good-looking, nor does it appear to be as accurate as the first one based on Kellogg’s painting. So why did Middleton redo the first picture, using a less attractive engraving from two decades before? This might be explained by the appearance in 1863 of the “Black Jack” stamp. This was a 2-cent stamp which had Jackson’s face—based on Dodge’s portrait—printed on it in black ink. In a day when images of past presidents were not readily available, this portrait of Jackson was probably the one by which most of the American public would recognize Jackson, so Middleton may have felt he had a better chance to sell his chromolithograph if it had the familiar visage of the Dodge portrait from the Black Jack stamp.

Stonewall Jackson

 

Middleton Stonewall Jackson
Photograph courtesy of Kentucky Historical Society

During the Civil War, Middleton published only pro-Union subjects, but with the end of the war, he wanted to expand his business to the southern market. At the suggestion of William Sherman, Middleton decided to add portraits of the two Confederate figures who were the most positive in their national reputations, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The Jackson portrait has an 1866 copyright date and an announcement for it in a New Orleans newspaper stated “Mr. Middleton has brought out a portrait in the same style [as that of Robert E. Lee] from an original painting sent him by Mrs. Jackson, which she prefers to all others.” This print was copyrighted in the “District of Kentucky,” not in Cincinnati.

As far as we have seen in our research, there is only one version of this print.

Robert E Lee

 

Middleton Lee

During the Civil War, Middleton published only pro-Union subjects, but with the end of the war, he wanted to expand his business to the southern market. At the suggestion of William Sherman, Middleton decided to add portraits of the two Confederate figures who were the most positive in their national reputations, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

Middleton wrote to Lee to ask for a photograph, but Lee replied that he didn’t have a good one. Middleton later found a photograph by Brady which seems to have proved satisfactory to both men, as this print was issued in 1866.

As far as we have seen in our research, there is only one version of this print.

Abraham Lincoln

 

Middleton’s Lincoln portrait was one of the most successful of the entire series. Middleton was able to get testimonials from Lincoln’s wife and son, as well as an endorsement of the portrait by the country’s leading orator, Edward Everett, whose letter was printed and placed on the back of many copies of this print. We also know, from a reply written to Middleton by Abraham Lincoln on December 30, 1864, that Middleton hoped to get a testimonial from Lincoln for his chromolithograph of the President. It is clear Middleton sent a copy of the print to Lincoln to ask for his opinion; in reply Lincoln remarks that “Your picture presented is, in the main, very good,” but he goes on to critique it in being “no so good” for the area “above the eyebrows.”

Middleton Lincoln first variant
First variant: Photograph courtesy of Cowan’s Auction

If one looks at the variants of Middleton’s Lincoln portraits, it becomes apparent that not only was Lincoln’s comment accurate, but that Middleton probably took his advice to heart and had a new image made. The first variant Lincoln portrait, with a copyright date of 1864, has Lincoln facing right and it is based on the 1864 photograph by Anthony Berger which was the basis for the portrait on the U.S. five dollar bill. While not a bad copy of the photograph, Lincoln was right and the print is “not so good” for the area above the eyebrows.

Middleton Lincoln variant 2
Second variant

Middleton seems to have reacted swiftly to Lincoln’s critique, for the considerable scarcity of this first version seems to indicate few were made and a completely revised Lincoln portrait appeared also with an 1864 copyright date. This second variant Lincoln portrait, based on another 1864 Berger photograph, has the President facing a bit to the left, with his head turned towards the viewer. This is a much more successful image and the print is generally accepted as one of the best likenesses available of the President.

Middleton Lincoln variant 3
Third variant,
Photograph courtesy of Goldberg’s Auction

Middleton came out with at least two more variant of the Lincoln portraits.

Middleton Lincoln, fourth variant
Fourth variant.
Photograph courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

Thanks to Stephen M. Coon, we have now added one more variant to the two we had previously documented.  The differences are fairly subtle, but can be seen, as Stephen has noted, in the countenance of the eyes, and also in the way the hair lies over Lincoln’s left ear.  Below are details with Stephen’s suggested labels…

Nonchalant countenance, variant 2

Piercing countenance, variant 3

Menacing countenance, variant 4

 

William T. Sherman

 

Middleton William T. Sherman

This print has an 1865 copyright date on it and as part of his pursuit of testimonials, Middleton visited Sherman at his home in early January the following year. In the letter to Robert E. Lee on January 18, 1866, Middleton wrote “While visiting General Sherman at his residence in St. Louis a few days ago, and getting the favorable impression of himself and his wife in regard to my Oil Portraits of him…” At least Mrs. Sherman’s impression was favorable, for on March 8th, she wrote Middleton that “I am happy to inform you that I regard your portrait of Gen. Sherman an excellent likeness and a beautiful work of Art.”

As far as we have seen in our research, there is only one version of this print.

Queen Victoria

 

Middleton Queen Victoria
Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress

In 1866, Middleton produced a pair of portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. These are neither portraits of “Great National Characters” nor are they of religious figures who were of interest to many Americans at the time. It is not at all clear why in 1866 Middleton chose to produce portraits of the British royal couple, especially as Albert had died five years previously in December 1861. 1866 was the year in which Queen Victoria came out of mourning seclusion in order to open Parliament, one of her first public appearances after Albert’s death. Perhaps this might have created enough public interest in Victoria and Albert that Middleton thought his prints would find a market. However, there does not seem to have been that much of a market, for the prints are perhaps the rarest of all the Middleton portraits.

As far as we have seen in our research, there is only one version of this print.

George Washington

 

Middleton Washingtons
3 variants of Washington portrait

Middleton’s prints of George and Martha Washington were based on portraits by Gilbert Stuart. These were two of the first three chromolithographed portraits which Middleton published, with some examples of each having an 1861 copyright on them. There are at least three variants of the George print; they look very much alike but are each from a different drawing on stone.

The Washington portraits were always lauded as superb copies of “the best portraits of the Washingtons ever painted.”  The portraits appear to have remained popular throughout the run of Middleton’s National Oil Portraits, still singled out for praise even as late as 1871, “How faithful the copies are to the great originals is attested by the recommendations from the highest authorities in the country.”  Given the popularity of the subjects and length of time these prints were published, it is not surprising that they are, along with the Lincoln portrait, the most commonly found today.

Martha Washington

 

MIddleton Martha Washington

Middleton’s prints of George and Martha Washington were based on portraits by Gilbert Stuart.  These were two of the first three chromolithographed portraits which Middleton published, with some examples of each having an 1861 copyright on them.  The portraits appear to have remained popular throughout the run of Middleton’s National Oil Portraits, still singled out for praise even as late as 1871, “How faithful the copies are to the great originals is attested by the recommendations from the highest authorities in the country.”

Given the popularity of the subjects and length of time these prints were published, it is not surprising that they are, along with the Lincoln portrait, the most commonly found today.  While not quite as many of the Martha portraits survive as of the George, there are enough that it is likely they were often sold as a pair.

As far as we have seen in our research, there is only one version of this print.

Daniel Webster

 

Middleton Daniel Webster
Photograph courtesy of U.S. Senate
Middleton Daniel Webster variant 2
Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress

There are at least two variant portraits of Webster. One is dated 1863 and the other 1865. According to a newspaper notice, “Webster’s is from a colored photograph, and remarkably faithful…The Massive head of Webster, and the expression of the face looks lifelike;” given the 1866 date of this notice, it probably refers to the second variant, but the first also appears to be based on a photograph, though of a younger Webster. As a testimonial, Middleton received a letter from Webster’s widow where she wrote, “I take pleasure in giving it my cordial and unqualified approbation, as being the most perfect, and in all respects, the most satisfactory portrait of him I have ever seen.”

John Wesley

 

Middleton John Wesley
Photograph courtesy of Asbury University

In June 1866, a notice appeared in the Fort Wayne Daily Gazette indicating that Middleton had produced a portrait of John Wesley.

“Mr. E.C. Middleton, the originator of the new style of oil portraits, has informed us that he has now in course of progress a cabinet or half life size portrait of John Wesley, in the same style as his series of National Portraits …..A painting is now being made as a copy for this portrait by the celebrated artist, C.W. Weber, from an engraving, after Jackson, of the Royal Academy, together with one from an original drawing from life.”

This print was issued as a “Centenary Portrait,” celebrating the introduction of Methodism into America by Philip Embury in 1766.

As far as we have seen in our research, there is only one version of this print.