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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

William Howard Taft Portraits

William Howard Taft, official White House portrait, 1911, Anders Zorn
William Howard Taft,
the heaviest of all our Presidents.
Well, it's birthday party time again. Happy Birthday, President William Howard Taft, born on this date in 1857. He would have been 158 years old today. He was one of seven presidents from my home state of Ohio and a member of the powerful Taft family of Cincinnati. His father, Alphonso Taft, had been Secretary of War and Attorney General, part of the scandal-ridden Grant administration during the 1870s. His son came to Washington in 1890 where he gained a broad range of governmental experience--Solicitor General of the United States, as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals, Governor-General of the Philippines, and in 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt's Secretary of War (an effort to groom him as Roosevelt's handpicked presidential successor). Taft served one term as President, from 1809 to 1813. Taft's official White House portrait (above) by the Swedish artist, Anders Zorn, painted in 1911 while Taft was still in office, eloquently captures in Zorn's robust style, the persona of a big man in a big job. Taft weighed in at around three-hundred pounds.

William Howard Taft, 1910, William Valentine Schevill, now in the National Portrait Gallery.
William Howard Taft had numerous portraits painted of him, three by a single artist, William Valentine Schevill, who painted the Taft image now in Washington's National Portrait Gallery. Eight years after serving as President, Taft was appointed by President Warren G. Harding (also from Ohio) as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, the only man to have ever headed two separate branches of the American government. His official portrait as Chief Justice (below) was painted by Ernest Ipsen. Taft served as Chief Justice from 1921 until his death in 1930. As President, Taft had appointed six justices to the Supreme Court, five of whom later served under his leadership. It was a position Taft had longed for all his life, even more than being President.

Chief Justice, William Howard Taft, after 1921, Ernest Ipsen
Portrait of Mr. Taft,
President of the United States,
1909, Joaquin Sorolla
As with several other presidential portraits, the unofficial ones are often more interesting than the often stodgy ones bought and paid for by the government. In Taft's case, two in particular stand out, one by the aforementioned William Valentine Schevill (below, left), the other a miniature watercolor portrait painted on ivory by the relatively unknown painter, Alyn Williams (below, right). Both feature an oval format. Both capture Taft the man fairly well, though the 3.5 inch miniature seems the far more lifelike of the two. Another, by the Spanish painter, Joaquin Sorolla, (left) Portrait of Mr. Taft, President of the United States, painted at the White House in 1909, suggests a convivial sessions between painter and President. Judging by he number of them and the fact that most were done during his single term in office, William Howard Taft seems to have enjoyed having his portrait painted.

    William Howard Taft, 1909,                               William Howard Taft, 1910,           
William Valentine Schevill                            Alyn Williams watercolor on ivory
First Lady Helen Herron Taft, 1909, Karl Bror Albert Kronstrand

William Howard Taft caricature
by an unknown artist.

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