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 portrait[s] of all the Pre[s]ident[s]
thus displayed, it is the first to hav[e] 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 [e]xcited unusual
interest [a]mong artists.
Many well-known artistic names wer[e]
numbered among the contestants.
Th[e] portrait finally chosen among
many, [a]fter careful artistic consideration, is by Mrs. W. D. Murphy
of New York City.
In her art education and experience,
[a]nd in her sympathies, in everything, in [s]hort, but her birth,
she is an American.
Sh[e] was born in England, coming
to America when a mer[e] child.
Her hom[e] was at first in Canad[a],
whence [s]he was sent to New York to further her [a]rtistic education.
Her talent was evident very early, attracting considerable attention.
Mrs. Murphy cannot remember, sh[e]
says, when she began to draw. As a child she was [a]lways drawing,
so that her talent [s]eem[s] to antedat[e] her earliest recollection.
Her artistic training
and experienc[e] were had in the East.
In addition to attending th[e] schools
sh[e] h[a]d the advantage of private instructors, [a]mong them Professor
Lawrence of Munich.
She has never returned to Europe sinc[e]
[he]r leaving England. The art galleries and [e]xhibitions in New
York, she says, hav[e] b[e]en her chief source of instruction and
She attends them all regularly, sitting
for hours before the canvases to study their [se]cret[s].
It is, of course, particularly remarkabl[e]
that thus handicapped Mrs. Murphy’s portrait of President McKinley
should hav[e] been chosen from among the contributions of many of
Th[e] present portrait was painted
from photographs. Not only had Mrs. Murphy no sitting, but sh[e]
had never seen President McKinley.
Th[e] 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 execut[e]
[s]tatues 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
wa[s] taken [f]rom Mrs. Murphy’s studio and placed in the Corcoran
Art Gallery, in Washington, wher[e] it attracted a great deal of
“By whom was it painted?” was constantly
being asked. Th[e] 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.
Th[e] judge[s] were confronted with
work from th[e] brushes of men whose reputation in the world of
art is unimpeachable.
The judges wer[e] selected as the
most competent men in the country to judg[e] of th[e] merits of
The competitor[s] 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 com[p]etition 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 [s]o famous a collection,” said Mrs. Murphy in
speaking of her success. “That my portrait of President McKinley
should hav[e] been chosen means, of course, that not alon[e] th[e]
art critics, but the intimate friends of the late President, were
pleased with my effort.
“This means much to me. I lik[e] to
think that I have caught the character of th[e] man, the subtle
something which finds expression in th[e] 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 th[e] impression
I had gathered of his personality.
“They tell me that I hav[e] been happy
in catching this latter, and I can only say I am very glad.
“Th[e] portrait as it now hangs in
the halls of the White House differs in no essential from the original
sketch submitted by m[e] in th[e] competition.
“Th[e] fac[e] and figure, in fact,
remain exactly as I first conceived them and placed them upon th[e]
canvas. Th[e] only alterations I may call trifling, although I cheerfully
“When Senator Hanna and Justic[e]
Day saw th[e] McKinley portrait the first suggestion mad[e] was
that the flag which formed part of th[e] background on the painting
b[e] removed and a plain dark ton[e] substituted.
“Th[e] reasons for the chang[e] wer[e]
very characteristic. It was Senator Hanna who [e]xplained: ‘President
McKinley, you know, had no patent on th[e] American flag.’ Among
all the portraits of the Presidents in th[e] Whit[e] House I found
that th[e] flag had been omitted.
“A scroll of paper was also placed
in on[e] hand, at the Senator’s suggestion. Th[e] only other alteration
was to slightly reduce th[e] waist line [sic]. Th[e] President’s
friends who examined the portrait agreed that th[e] figur[e] as
I had drawn it was true to life.
“Th[e] face and general expression
as I had reproduced it hav[e] been much praised by several of President
McKinley’s closest [friends.]”