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Monday, August 10, 2015

Herbert Hoover Portraits

Herbert Clark Hoover, 1956, Elmer Wesley Greene
Five presidents of the United States were born in the month of August. President Herbert Clark Hoover was one of them, the second in this series, also the 31st man to hold that office. Elected in 1928 just in time for the onset of the Great Depression; and likely because of that unfortunate circumstantial encounter with history, he was a one-term president, serving from 1928 to 1932. It's a common practice to blame Hoover for the economic calamity, although the causes of the 1929 financial collapse are much too complex to lay squarely at Hoover's feet. Historians will argue from now to eternity as to how much responsibility Hoover had, if not in causing the economic debacle of the 1930s, at least in worsening and prolonging its effects. It might be considered a telling consequence of this quandary that his official White House portrait (above) was not painted until 1956, some twenty-four years after Hoover left office. and just eight years before his death. The artist was Elmer Wesley Greene.

President Herbert Hoover, 1931, Douglas Chandor
As with the other presidents we've depicted, there are two important portraits and any number of minor efforts by major and minor artists, many painted from old photos long after the presidents death. Herbert Hoover is no exception. Besides that which hangs in the White House, the second most important portrait of a president is the one which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery just a few blocks east. In Hoover's case, that portrait (above) is the one painted by Douglas Chandor in 1931 while President Hoover was still in office. This one was commissioned by Time magazine for its cover, but the president kept delaying the settings with the artist to the point that by the time it was finished, Time was no longer interested in using it. Thus Hoover became the only president in the history of the magazine who did not appear on its cover. It's interesting to compare the two paintings and note how the passage of twenty-five years changed the man's face.

One of the better portraits of Hoover painted from a photo.

Diluted oils used to colorize a
black and white photo.
As the Time episode indicates, Herbert Hoover did not like sitting for portraits. So far as I can tell, the Chandor portrait and the one by Greene are the only two for which he actually posed. All others were either painted from photos, or copied from Chandor's effort. In one case, the artists, Harris & Ewing (left), did not paint from a photo of Hoover but painted on it, colorizing the black and white print (perhaps several of them) with highly-diluted, transparent oils. In so doing, they gave a whole new meaning to the designation "painted portrait." In that they were painted from photos, most of the other portraits of Hoover are by unknown artists from black and white photos. Thus the facial coloration and lighting varies from the source photos somewhat, though the features and the likenesses are usually quite accurate. Unlike most other presidential portraits, virtually all of these were head and shoulders renderings.

Two of the uneven examples of Hoover rendered from photos.             
First Lady Lou Hoover. White House
portrait, Lydia Field Emmet
Herbert Hoover was born in 1874. He died in 1964 at the age on ninety, making him the third longest-lived president (after Gerald Ford (93) and Ronald Reagan (also 93, but 45 days short of Ford's record). However two living presidents, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter seem determined to replace Hoover in third place. Hoover was a mining engineer by profession who worked solving geological problems in countries around the world. He Married Lou Henry (right) in 1899 just before they headed off to China on a job. Proving himself a capable problem solver, Hoover got involved in politics solely through appointments, first by President Woodrow Wilson, to head the humanitarian relief efforts in war-torn Belgium after WW I, and later as Secretary of Commerce during the Harding and Coolidge administrations. In fact Hoover had never held elective office until he became president. He was also the last cabinet secretary to be elected president. Thus politics was something of a sideline for Hoover, which may explain a lot as to what he did and didn't do when faced with an economic crisis the depth and scope of the Great Depression.

Herbert Hoover as seen by a
more modern artist.




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