Click on photos to enlarge.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Benjamin Harrison Portraits

Benjamin Harrison, Official White House portrait, 1894, Eastman Johnson.
Very few kids today are forced (or even encouraged) to learn all the names of he presidents of the United States in order. Even sixty years ago when I was of the age to memorize such stuff, the practice had pretty much fallen to the wayside. I've long been thankful that I did have to memorize all the states and the capitals; of course there were a couple less of them back then. The first president I can recall hearing about was Harry Truman, so there were more than a few less presidents to memorize back then too. I've gotten to the point now, having studied history quite a lot, I could name all the presidents pretty much in order if I set my mind to it. However, with such arcane trivia at our fingertips on-line, or even on-phone, such rote memorization is pretty much out of favor today. Yet, especially for the history buff, being able to name all the presidents provides a kind of "framework" upon which to hang all the more relevant elements of American History. Such a list forms a background behind the present-day 24-hour news cycle we've all come to know and love (or at least tolerate). Today, August 20, 2015 is the 182nd birthday of our twenty-third president, Benjamin Harrison.
Benjamin Harrison, 1900, Theodore C. Steele, National Portrait Gallery
Benjamin Harrison's grandfather,
President William Henry Harrison
Benjamin Harrison is easiest to recall in reciting the list of American presidents if you remember he was the "sandwich president," between the two terms of President Grover Cleveland. Thus Cleveland was both his predecessor and successor. Harrison is also remembered as the grandson of our ninth president, William Henry Harrison (right), who died of pneumonia exactly one month after taking office in 1841. In that Benjamin Harrison was born in 1833, he would have been a young lad of seven at the time, perhaps just barely old enough to remember his grandfather, the president. In that his grandfather is said to have died as a result of delivering a two-hour-long inaugural address on a cold, rainy day in March, the grandson kept his speech to under an hour. As a result, he lived out his full term. Both his "official" portraits, the White House painting (top) by Eastman Johnson, and the National Portrait Gallery painting (above) by Theodore C. Steele bear out the nickname acquired by Harrison while president--"The Human Iceberg."

Portraits and their sources.
One of the more interesting elements in studying the portraits of presidents is the fact that, from the 1840s on, nearly all of them had portraits done after their death based upon photos taken during their lifetime. The composite image I've put together (above) illustrates this, starting with the photo in the center. The painted portrait in the upper-left corner and a color etching in the lower right corner appear to be based upon the same photo. I'm unsure if the etching represents a hand-tinted print or if some form of early color lithography (invented in the 1880s) was involved.

Come On Boys!, Battle of Resaca, May 13th to 16th, 1864.
President Benjamin Harrison,
 Alexander Lawrie
Like several presidents during the second-half of the 19th century, Harrison first made a name for himself as an officer during he Civil War. The etching, Come on Boys! (above) probably dates from Harrison's early days in Indiana Politics. The Battle of Resaca, now and then, was a little-known dust-up in north Georgia, a minor military encounter as part of Sherman's approach to Atlanta. If that was the best his political supporters could come up with, it's doubtful it would have had much of an impact on Harrison's senate or presidential campaigns. The portrait by Alexander Lawrie (left) is a much better likeness, perhaps one of the best, though based upon it's style, I'd place it well after Harrison's turn in the White House, probably after his death in 1901.

Benjamin Harrison, as seen
by Madame Tussaud's.

If you really want to learn the names of all forty-four presidents, one of the more enjoyable ways might be to pay a visit to Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in Washington, D.C. There you'll find life-size figures of, not only Benjamin Harrison (right), but all the other presidents lined up in order. Just don't try to shake hands with any of them. The museum has its own version of the secret service. First Lady, Caroline Harrison's official White House portrait (below) is by Daniel Huntington. Mrs. Harrison died of tuberculosis during her husband's re-election campaign in October, 1892. In 1896, having been defeated for reelection, Harrison, at age 62, remarried. His new wife was the widowed 37-year-old niece and former secretary of his deceased wife. Both his children were older than his new bride and refused to attend the wedding. Nonetheless, a year later, the couple had a child of their own. Harrison died in 1901 from influenza and is today buried in Indianapolis' Crown Hill Cemetery between his two wives.

First Lady Caroline Harrison, 1894, Daniel Huntington.

During Harrison's term, the U.S. budget reached one-billion
dollars for the first time. Harrison's political opponents
 commemorated the event with his portrait on a one-million
dollar bill. There apparently wasn't room for more zeros.


No comments:

Post a Comment