April 6, 2007
The Schwarz Gallery announces The Green Tree
, an exhibition of art and artifacts that highlights the collection of the Mutual Assurance Company of Philadelphia. The exhibition is accompanied by a 56 page fully-illustrated color catalog.
The Mutual Assurance Company for Insuring Homes from Loss by Fire was founded shortly after the end of the American Revolution in 1784 by members of the Philadelphia Contributorship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire and others who were dissatisfied by that companyâ€™s refusal to insure houses with trees on their street faÃ§ades. The new company insured homes fronted by carefully pruned trees and adopted the image of a green tree as its corporate emblem and fire mark. The company, which came to be known simply as â€œThe Green Tree,â€ greatly expanded its policyholder base and prospered, and in 1812 purchased its first office on 54 Walnut Street.
The companyâ€™s trustees began to acquire portraits in 1815, when they commissioned the local artist Bass Otis to paint a copy of Gilbert Stuartâ€™s Athenaeum portrait of George Washington. A major event took place in 1839, when the trustees commissioned John Neagle to paint a portrait of the sixth chairman of their board of directors, James Cowles Fisher, thereby initiating a corporate tradition that lasted well into the twentieth century. It may seem unlikely that a group of conservative insurance executives would be sensitive to art and aesthetics, but from the outset they possessed an uncanny knack for choosing the most appropriate portraitist for a given chairman. Neagle characteristically produced a straightforward image of the philanthropic, kindly businessman Fisher; Thomas Eakins was selected, despite his reputation for controversy, to paint posthumous portraits of the military hero and entrepreneur George Cadwalader; complicated arrangements were made so that John Singer Sargent could paint the accomplished cosmopolite Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell while visiting the United States from London. The Green Tree executives had Cecilia Beaux paint a progressive, impressionist-style portrait of the businessman and amateur photographer J. Dickinson Sergeant; they selected William Merritt Chase to paint the good-natured raconteur Henry Williams Biddle; and, perhaps most surprising of all, they granted Alexander Cassattâ€™s request to have his likeness painted by Philip Pearlstein.
The Mutual Assurance Company also amassed a wide range of items related to era of volunteer firefighting companies. The most important among these include rare nineteenth-century fire engine models, one of which was made in Lancaster by two sons of the noted portraitist Jacob Eichholz; a hand-painted bronze figure of a fireman made by the Philadelphia firm Cornelius & Baker; articles of firemenâ€™s clothing, such as parade hats, helmets, and belts; a group of hand-sewn leather fire buckets; an assortment of speaking horns, axes, spanners, wrenches, and a parade torch; numerous European and American fire marks dating from the eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries; and a complete set of six lithographs from Louis Maurer and Nathaniel Currierâ€™s â€œLife of a Firemanâ€ series.
The Schwarz Gallery is located in a Center City Philadelphia townhouse near Rittenhouse Square. We welcome visitors Monday through Friday, 9am to 5:30pm, Saturday 10am to 5pm.
The gallery is closed on Saturdays June 1â€“August 31 except by appointment.