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Artist, Indiana Governors' Portrait Collection
Joseph Albert Wright (1810-1867)
Governor of Indiana
December 5, 1849-January 12, 1857
Artist: Jacob Cox, American, 1810-1892
oil on canvas, 36 3/16 x 29 1/8 (92.0 x 74.0)
JOSEPH WRIGHT's portrait in the collection is another by Jacob Cox. It was acquired for the state in Governor Baker's time, but since there are no records of the date or of the circumstances of its execution, or of its history prior to its placement in the State House, we can only speculate about its origin.
Since Wright did not return to Indiana after 1857 when he left to serve as minister to Prussia, it is likely that Cox painted the portrait before Wright left Indianapolis. The painting probably dates from late in Wright's second term of office since he appears in the portrait to be a man approaching fifty. The execution is such as to lead one to believe that the portrait was made from life: his set jaw and compressed lips imply an unyielding disposition; and the gesture of his hand toward a statute book clearly suggest his regard for the authority of the law.
The composition and coloring have been successfully arranged. The tones are deep and rich. A rosy glow pervades the background, creating a warm atmosphere and a convincing effect of depth. The well-modeled head is strongly illuminated, giving the face a ruddy hue and making it stand out clearly from the background.
It is interesting to note that Cox had painted five Indiana governors before the formation of the collection in 1869. In fact, the four previously mentioned portraits may have been displayed in the committee room of the State House at an exhibition of Cox's work, late in 1841. (1) One cannot help but wonder if the existence of this nucleus was not a large factor in encouraging Conrad Baker to initiate the project.
Jacob Cox was born near Philadelphia in 1810, and his youth was spent in Philadelphia and in Washington, Pennsylvania. When he was about twenty years old, he went by boat, with his bride and his brother, from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati.
In 1833, they came to Indianapolis, where the brothers established a stove, tinware, and coppersmith business. Jacob had displayed some talent for art in his boyhood days, but he was persuaded to take up a more practical trade and was discouraged from taking instruction in drawing and painting. The tinware establishment was very successful here, but Jacob found his eagerness to paint overshadowing his interest in business, and spare moments given to sketching and reading art books multiplied until painting became the dominant interest of his life.
He opened a studio in Indianapolis in 1835 and began his long career as an Indiana painter, which was interrupted by a short stay in Cincinnati in 1842. His reputation grew rapidly, and within a few years he became the leading artist of Indianapolis, receiving many important commissions and attracting to his studio most of the art students of the period. He retained his popularity until his death in 1892.
For more detailed information on Jacob Cox, see Wilbur D. Peat, Paintings by Jacob Cox - A Retrospective Exhibition of Work by and Early Indianapolis Artist, (ex. cat.) Indianapolis, John Herron Art Museum, November 8-30, 1941.
(1) Peat, Paintings by Jacob Cox, unpaginated.
Source: Peat, Wilbur D. Portraits and Painters of the Governors of Indiana 1800-1978. Revised, edited and with new entries by Diane Gail Lazarus, Indianapolis Museum of Art. Biographies of the governors by Lana Ruegamer, Indiana Historical Society. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society and Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1978.