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The Green Tree: Highlights from the Collection of the Mutual Assurance Company of Philadelphia - April 2007
 
 
painting
 
Thomas Eakins
(1844–1916)
General George Cadwalader, 1880
Oil on panel, 32 × 26 inches
Exhibited: “Framing the Board: A Look at Corporate Portraiture,” Mutual Assurance Company and Independence National Historic Park, Second Bank of the United States, Philadelphia, October 27, 1982–January 17, 1983, no. 7.
References: Lloyd Goodrich, Thomas Eakins: His Life and Work (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1933), no. 139, 173. Garvan and Wojtowicz 1977, 63–64, color pl. Lloyd Goodrich, Thomas Eakins, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1982), 1:201. Edward G. Leffingwell, “A Fine Animal”: Portraits of General George Cadwalader of Philadelphia, M.A. thesis, University of Cincinnati, 1984, 74–82. William Innes Homer, Thomas Eakins: His Life and Art (New York: Abbeville Press, 2002), 108.
RS 6222


The soldier, lawyer, and businessman George Cadwalader (1806–1879) was born in Philadelphia to an old and distinguished military family. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he studied law and was admitted to the bar. He joined the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry in 1826, was elected captain of the Philadelphia Grays in 1832, and was commissioned brigadier general of the First Brigade, First Division, Pennsylvania Militia, in 1842. Cadwalader commanded the forces that quelled the Know Nothing party riots in Philadelphia in 1844. He was commissioned brigadier general of volunteers at the beginning of the Mexican War in 1847, and fought in the most significant battles in that conflict. Cadwalader was brevetted major general later that year for gallant conduct at the battle of Chapultepec. He was given a hero’s reception at Independence Hall when he returned to Philadelphia, where he resumed practicing law and became involved in various business ventures.

At the outbreak of the Civil War Cadwalader commanded Union forces at Baltimore and Annapolis, and was appointed a divisional commander in the Shenandoah Valley in 1861. He was commissioned a major general the following year and was transferred to Corinth, Mississippi, where he commanded the Second and Sixth Divisions of the Army of the Western Tennessee. He returned to Philadelphia after the war and spent the last years of his life occupied in Civil War veterans’ affairs.

The general had accumulated considerable wealth through profitable investments and was regarded as an unusually adept businessman. He was elected a trustee of the Mutual Assurance Company in 1839 and served as its chairman from 1857 until his death. In a eulogy delivered on February 12, 1879, Silas Weir Mitchell, a Mutual Assurance Company trustee and noted physician, reminisced about Cadwalader and concluded, “We shall miss greatly his shrewd knowledge of men and affairs, his firm business-like capacity, but far more, I think, when month after month, we gather about our Social table, shall we be reminded of the upright figure which sat at the head of our board and had for all of us an ever ready smile and manly welcome.”

On two occasions, June 14, 1871, and February 13, 1878, the trustees of the Mutual Assurance Company unsuccessfully requested Cadwalader to sit for a portrait. On February 12, 1879, after the general’s death, a committee was appointed to “procure a portrait of Gen. Cadwalader.” On May 15, 1880, the trustees paid the Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins $250 to paint a posthumous portrait of the general that is now owned by the Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio. The artist represented Cadwalader almost exactly as he appeared in a photograph used in a carte de visite (Historical Society of Pennsylvania), sitting erect, wearing a major general’s uniform, and with his hair in a remarkably disheveled state.

Eakins was a surprising choice to execute the commission. The son of a calligrapher and writing master, he graduated from the Central High School in 1862 and began to take courses at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He also began to attend anatomy lectures at Jefferson Medical College. In 1866 he went to Paris, where he attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and studied with the French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904). After visiting Spain, Eakins returned to Philadelphia in 1869 and remained there until the end of his life. He began teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1878, where he was appointed professor of painting and drawing the following year. Eakins’s insistence on having both male and female students paint directly from the nude model engendered a controversy that led to his dismissal in 1886.

Eakins was already a controversial figure in 1880 because he was known as an uncompromising realist who refused to idealize his portrait subjects. The trustees of the Mutual Assurance Company must have been aware that the artist had recently been involved in public controversies over commissioned portraits. His full-length portrait of Dr. Samuel Gross (1875, shared between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) offended the sensibilities of many Philadelphians because it represented the physician in the midst of performing an operation, with blood dripping from his scalpel. The Union League of Philadelphia had commissioned Eakins to paint a portrait of President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877 for its collection of presidential portraits. He represented Hayes, to quote an early critic, “in his old alpaca office coat, with the stump of a lead pencil in his fingers, and with his sunburned face glistening with summer perspiration.”1 Eakins’s painting was removed from the league’s walls sometime before June 1880 and replaced by a much more conventional portrait by William Garl Browne, Jr. (1823–1894).

Evidently the trustees of the Mutual Assurance Company were satisfied with Eakins’s work because in March 1881 they paid him $250 to paint a second portrait of Cadwalader, this time in civilian clothing.2 Again, Eakins relied on the likeness in the carte de visite photograph. The trustees ultimately decided to give the first portrait of Cadalader to his descendants and to keep the second one of him for their collection. Garvan and Wojtowicz made the reasonable conclusion that the trustees “felt that the portrait of General Cadwalader in uniform did not adequately reflect his role as a trustee, and consequently they decided to keep the portrait depicting him in civilian dress.” Whatever their motivation was in commissioning the portraits, both are important examples of Eakins’s early commissioned portraiture.

Notes

1. Lloyd Goodrich, Thomas Eakins, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), 1:143.

2. See Garvan and Wojtowicz 1977, 64, for a discussion of the confusion that surrounded the chronology of these two portraits.


  


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