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Artist, Indiana Governors' Portrait Collection
Samuel Bigger (1802-1846)
Governor of Indiana
December 9, 1840-December 6, 1843
Artist: Jacob Cox, American, 1810-1892
oil on canvas, 36 x 29 (91.4 x 73.7)
THE PORTRAIT of Samuel Bigger is the fourth painting by Jacob Cox in the Governors Portrait Collection. In the previously mentioned Indianapolis Journal article of September, 1841, the portrait of Governor Bigger receives special praise, being described as "precisely what it should be, a perfect likeness." Since Bigger is most likely portrayed as governor (note the book marked "State Papers" on the shelf behind him), the painting can be assigned to the year 1841, just after Bigger assumed office. Although there are no records relating to its passing into the possession of the State, we may surmise that Governor Baker acquired the portrait from Cox in 1869.
The comment made by the writer of the Journal article indicates his attraction to the portrait's straightforward, unadorned manner. The stock decorative devices frequently used by Cox have been discarded, but the bookcase and writing table, laden with official papers and documents, lends the required gubernatorial air to the portrait without a staged effect. Patches of direct color relieve the sobriety of the plain grey background. Seated erect, an envelope in hand, Bigger is presented as a practical, serious man. There is a suggestion of nervous energy in his pose, conveying the strain that the governor is under as he tries to guide the destinies of a state almost bankrupt.
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.
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.