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Artist, Indiana Governors' Portrait Collection
David Wallace (1799-1859)
Governor of Indiana
December 6, 1837-December 9, 1840
Artist: Jacob Cox, American, 1810-1892
oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 29 (92.1 x 73.7)
Signed l.l. on book: J COX/IX.?.
THE PORTRAIT of David Wallace is the third in the collection by Jacob Cox and is unquestionably the best of the artist's early production. The subject has been seen and drawn more broadly, and the portrait is convincing in its suggestion of character. Cox successfully employs decorative devices to lend interest, rank, and dignity to the portrait. Used frequently throughout the early days of the Republic and well into the nineteenth century, the billowing deep maroon curtain, usually drawn back to reveal a pier or column, and the cloth covered writing table laden with books and documents are motifs seen in various arrangements. Holding his place in a book to give the viewer his attention, Wallace presents an expression that is incisive and resolute, and he impresses one as a man of convictions.
The success with which the artist has given these impressions leaves little doubt in one's mind that the portrait was painted from life. But in addition to these internal evidences, we have a statement from an eye-witness of the sittings. Lew Wallace, in his chatty story about his early aspirations to become an artist, tells how he found his father posing one day in Jacob Cox's studio: "When I heard that Mr. Cox painted pictures in oil, I nerved myself and boldly invaded his studio. He was painting my father's portrait when I went in. The coincidence excused me. We became good friends, and not a few of my truancies were spent watching him at work".(1)
The context of this incident in the story of Lew Wallace's adventures suggests that the portrait was painted while his father was governor, between 1837 and 1840. An article in the Indianapolis Journal of September, 1841, supports the assignment of this general date.(2) Praising the "Elegant Gallery of Pictures and Portraits" by Mr. Cox in his studio, the article cites "the number and excellence of his portraits of our distinguished citizens," including Governor Wallace and Governor Bigger. Comparing the portrait with Cox's earlier portraits of Ray and Noble, a date of about 1840 is more accurate.(3) While no other documentation has been found regarding this portrait, it can be assumed that, since the portrait was exhibited in Cox's own gallery, Wallace sat for his portrait at the artist's request. It was probably acquired by the state from the artist in 1869.
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) Lew Wallace, An Autobiography, New York and London, 1906, I, 49.
(2) "The Fine Arts in Indianapolis," Indianapolis Indiana Journal, September 10, 1841, p. 1.
(3) Mary Q. Burnet, in Art and Artists of Indiana, New York, 1921, p. 80, implies that the portrait was painted between 1840 and 1842, and Louis E. Gibson in an article in the Indianapolis News, July 20, 1893, p. from Cincinnati, which would place it around 1843. Based on the portrait's comparative artistic merit, Peat was in agreement with the late date of 1843. At the time, he was unaware of the 1841 newspaper article cited in note [. . .2 above], which conclusively establishes the earlier date of 1840.
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.