Revised National Picture of President McKinley
Woman Artist Painted Portrait That Is to Hang in
the White House.
WRITTEN FOR THE SUNDAY REPUBLIC.
The official portrait of President
McKinley, recently hung in the White House, is the work of an American
Among the portraits of all the Presidents
thus displayed, it is the first to have been executed by a woman,
nor is it by any means the least interesting or meritorious.
The appropriation of $2,500 by Congress
for a portrait of the late President naturally excited unusual interest
Many well-known artistic names were
numbered among the contestants.
The portrait finally chosen among
many, after careful artistic consideration, is by Mrs. W. D. Murphy
of New York City.
In her art education and experience,
and in her sympathies, in everything, in short, but her birth, she
is an American.
She was born in England, coming to
America when a mere child.
Her home was at first in Canada, whence
she was sent to New York to further her artistic education. Her
talent was evident very early, attracting considerable attention.
Mrs. Murphy cannot remember, she says,
when she began to draw. As a child she was always drawing, so that
her talent seems to antedate her earliest recollection.
Her artistic training
and experience were had in the East.
In addition to attending the schools
she had the advantage of private instructors, among them Professor
Lawrence of Munich.
She has never returned to Europe since
her leaving England. The art galleries and exhibitions in New York,
she says, have been her chief source of instruction and inspiration.
She attends them all regularly, sitting
for hours before the canvases to study their secrets.
It is, of course, particularly remarkable
that thus handicapped Mrs. Murphy’s portrait of President McKinley
should have been chosen from among the contributions of many of
The present portrait was painted from
photographs. Not only had Mrs. Murphy no sitting, but she had never
seen President McKinley.
The accepted portrait is life size
and represents the late President holding his glasses in his left
hand and a sheet of paper in the right, a characteristic attitude
of Mr. McKinley when talking.
His closest friends, Senator Hanna
and Judge Day, passed upon the portrait and declared it to be
an excellent likeness, the best they had seen of him, a characteristic
and spirited portraiture of the man, expressing the full power,
benevolence and impressiveness of President McKinley’s remarkable
On several occasions
the portrait has been a model for sculptors desiring to execute
statues of McKinley.
The portrait has just been hung in
the Colonial Hall of the White House at the side of the large mirrors,
in one of the places formerly occupied by the portraits of President
Harrison and President Tyler.
When the painting was completed it
was taken from Mrs. Murphy’s studio and placed in the Corcoran Art
Gallery, in Washington, where it attracted a great deal of attention.
“By whom was it painted?” was constantly
being asked. The interest manifested in it showed more than anything
else the public appreciation of the work.
When $2,500 was appropriated by Congress
for the purchase of a portrait of the late President, Mrs. Murphy
submitted her work.
The judges were confronted with work
from the brushes of men whose reputation in the world of art is
The judges were selected as the most
competent men in the country to judge of the merits of the portrait.
The competitors were somewhat taken
aback when the announcement was made that the work of a woman had
won, in spite of the ancient tradition that a woman must always
stay in the background of art when in competition with men.
When they saw the accepted portrait
their doubts were silenced and they expressed the utmost satisfaction
in the selection.
MRS. MURPHY’S GRATITUDE.
“I appreciate the honor
of contributing to so famous a collection,” said Mrs. Murphy in
speaking of her success. “That my portrait of President McKinley
should have been chosen means, of course, that not alone the art
critics, but the intimate friends of the late President, were pleased
with my effort.
“This means much to me. I like to
think that I have caught the character of the man, the subtle something
which finds expression in the bearing and expression of my model.
“The word model is perhaps misleading.
I never saw President McKinley in my life.
“In painting his portrait, therefore,
I was obliged to work solely from photographs, aided by the impression
I had gathered of his personality.
“They tell me that I have been happy
in catching this latter, and I can only say I am very glad.
“The portrait as it now hangs in the
halls of the White House differs in no essential from the original
sketch submitted by me in the competition.
“The face and figure, in fact, remain
exactly as I first conceived them and placed them upon the canvas.
The only alterations I may call trifling, although I cheerfully
“When Senator Hanna and Justice Day
saw the McKinley portrait the first suggestion made was that the
flag which formed part of the background on the painting be removed
and a plain dark tone substituted.
“The reasons for the change were very
characteristic. It was Senator Hanna who explained: ‘President McKinley,
you know, had no patent on the American flag.’ Among all the portraits
of the Presidents in the White House I found that the flag had been
“A scroll of paper was also placed
in one hand, at the Senator’s suggestion. The only other alteration
was to slightly reduce the waist line [sic]. The President’s friends
who examined the portrait agreed that the figure as I had drawn
it was true to life.
“The face and general expression as
I had reproduced it have been much praised by several of President
McKinley’s closest friends.”