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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Theodore Roosevelt Portraits

President Theodore Roosevelt, Official White House Portrait, 1903, John Singer Sargent
Are you ready for another U.S. President? On this day, October 27, 1858, (157 years ago) was born the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. He was born at 28, East 20th Street, Manhattan, New York, the second of four children to socialite Martha Stewart Bulloch and glass businessman Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. (their son never included the designation, Jr. after his name). Interestingly, the baby lacked a middle name, though, as President, he acquired the nickname, "Teddy," or "TR," which more or less served the same purpose. John Singer Sargent, who painted TR's official White House portrait (above) recalled him as being something of a cantankerous model. After hours of preliminary sketches in various poses and White House venues, both artist and model were becoming irritated. As the president headed upstairs ready to call it quits, he remarked that he didn't think Sargent had a clue as to what he wanted. Sargent shot back to the effect that Roosevelt didn't know what was needed in a pose. Roosevelt paused on the landing, gripped the banister nodule, fist on his hip, and replied none too softly, "Don't I?" Instantly, Sargent found his pose.

Theodore Roosevelt, 1908, Adrian Lamb, National Portrait Gallery
As many portrait artists have belatedly discovered, painting a president, especially one still in office, is no simple or pleasant task. You can only plead with the man so many times to "please don't move," before he begins to become resentful, which can often be seen plainly in his face. Aides come and go, sittings are brief (as little as a half-hour in some cases), and often spread over weeks during which time even oils become dry. Sargent encountered all those woes. Another artist, Adrian Lamb, painting Roosevelt in 1908, near the end of his term, had a much easier time in rendering the portrait of the president (above), which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Who copied whom?
In fact, in examining Lamb's portrait, there's some question as to whether it was painted from life or from a photo, or perhaps even as a copy of another painter's work. Compare the two portraits above, both painted in 1908. The one on the left is by the Hungarian artist, Philip Alexius de Lazlo. Although the Lamb portrait would seem to be the better of the two, they are so nearly identical in pose and lighting it's obvious one artist copied the other. The attributions are undoubtedly correct and well-documented. Could both artists have painted from identical photos? You decide.

Portrait of President of
Theodore Roosevelt,
1908, Gari Melcher
Theodore Roosevelt, 1908,
Joseph Rodefer DeCamp, in what
appears to be the East Room.
Also painted in 1908 are two additional portraits by noted artists of the time. Both are full-length, Gari Melcher's robust, outdoorsy image (above, left) contrasts sharply with Joseph Rodefer DeCamp's Theodore Roosevelt (above, right) looking very presidential in his neatly cut, gray, three-piece suit. In viewing his many portraits, one has to wonder if Theodore Roosevelt ever sat down.
Edith Roosevelt, 1902, Théobald Chartran. Today it hangs in a prominent
place as part of the White House collection of First Lady portraits.
In 1902, shortly after Vice President Roosevelt became President upon the death of William McKinley, he commissioned two separate portraits by the French society artist, Theobald Chartran. Mrs. Edith Roosevelt loved hers (above). But when Roosevelt saw his, he instantly hated it. He hung it hidden away in the darkest corner of the White House. When one of TR's six kids called it the "Mewing Cat" in that he looked so harmless, Roosevelt had it destroyed. Then he hired a real man's artist, John Singer Sargent, to paint a more masculine portrait--hence the difficulty Sargent encountered in satisfying the President's tastes as to a pose.
Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt,
Rick Timmons
Portrait of Teddy Roosevelt,
Robert Joyner
It's always interesting to compare the work of present-day artists, usually working from photos, and definitely so in Roosevelt's case (he died in 1919) to those of the past. During the 20th-century, painting styles proliferated and tastes changed drastically, even as to what now passes for realism, as seen in Rick Timmons' Theodore Roosevelt (above, left). However, Expressionism is nowhere more notable than when applied to portraits such as that by Robert Joyner and his Portrait of Teddy Roosevelt (above, right). But going a step (or two...maybe three) further into the dangerous realm of portrait Expressionism is Debra Hurd's clownish Theodore Roosevelt (below).

Theodore Roosevelt, Debra Hurd
(No comment.)

The first and original "Teddy" Bear, 1902,
approved by the President himself.

Note: With regard to the little mystery posed earlier, the reason Adrian Lamb had it so much easier in painting Roosevelt than did Sargent was that he painted from Alexius de Lazlo's portrait done a few months earlier. By the end of his nearly eight years in office, TR was probably getting a little tired of posing for portraits.


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