Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Collections Spotlight: The Cogswell Portrait

Today's entry is written by Museum Assistant
Pablo Morales Henry.

I would like to present one of my favorite items in the house, Mr. Bush’s portrait in the library. The first impression upon viewing the portrait is that Mr. Bush was an impressive man both in stature and Oregon history. The portrait reminded me of one of the typical presidential portraits from the 19th century.

The portrait that I am referring to was painted by William F. Cogswell, who was born in Sandusky, NY in 1819 and died in Pasadena, CA in 1903. The portrait was painted in 1880. Cogswell was not just an ordinary artist, and there are several reasons why his work is so unique. First of all, he taught himself portrait painting in the 1830s while he was working at a color factory and from there he made a career. Another reason is the fact that some of his most famous works are portraits of U.S. presidents. Perhaps his most famous work is a portrait of President Abraham Lincoln, which was painted 1864 (this portrait is displayed at the White House). Cogswell also painted a portrait of Ulysses S. Grant in 1868 (this portrait is displayed at the U.S. Senate). Cogswell painted this portrait the year before Grant started his first term in office. Later, he also painted President Grant and his family (this piece is displayed at the Smithsonian). Afterwards, Cogswell painted a portrait of President McKinley and the portraits of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii, just to name a few of the people that commissioned work from him.

After quite a few years of success on the east coast, in 1873, Cogswell moved to California. He had previously lived in California during the gold rush, which was an event that motivated some interesting works in his early career. Cogswell bought a property in what is today east Pasadena, and built a beautiful Victorian house. He lived there for many years, during which time he travelled and continued painting. He primarily painted political figures from the State of California. It was during this time that Cogswell painted the portrait of Asahel Bush II that we have today at the museum.

If you have not had the opportunity to appreciate this magnificent painting from the 19th century, please join us at the museum for a tour and you will see an incredible piece that is comparable with the portraits of Presidents Lincoln and Grant.

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