Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924) 1918

 Timothy Cole after John Singer Sargent 

Portrait of Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924),  Timothy Cole after John Singer Sargent
Wood engraving
20th Century
9 3/4 x 6 5/8 inches 25 x 17.5cm
Private Collection US
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This engraving after Sargent's portrait of the previous year represents an atypical direction in Cole's work, since he is best known for landscape engravings, and for prints after the work of old master painters, particularly of the Dutch seventeenth century, for which his sensitive white line technique was particularly suitable. From 1873 he had been associated with Century Magazine (then Scribner's) in which his work was frequently printed. His popularity in this medium was considerable, and this public demand was satisfied by the publication of his work in collected forms, such as Dutch and Flemish Masters (1901).

Woodrow Wilson may be seen as proceeding more directly from the preoccupations of a nation at war, and this print forms part of a patriotic series when seen in conjunction with others such as Cole's engraving of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, both after Gilbert Stuart, and the Duke of Wellington after Sir Thomas Lawrence.

Sargent's signature at the bottom of this and other examples of Cole's print shows the degree to which both artists were collaborators in the project, an indication both of the importance of the image at that time as well as a sign of Sargent's approval of Cole's interpretation of his painting.

This portrait was something of an exception in Sargent's oeuvre also, and he undertook the commission with considerable reluctance. As early as 1905 he had sworn off portrait painting, but the commission that became the Wilson picture had an unusual genesis and was not to be ignored. As early as 1915 Sargent found himself pressed by a man named Hugh Lane to paint a portrait on the condition that Lane would give £10,000 to the Red Cross on its completion. Lane died in the sinking of the Lusitania in that year, but the commission remained, and the National Gallery of Ireland, Lane's beneficiaries, donated the money to the Red Cross and stipulated the President as the subject of the painting. Woodrow Wilson was undeniably the man of his time. He had entered the Great War - reluctantly; he had won a second term as the man who kept America out of the war - governed by the Fourteen Points that were to dictate much of the subsequent treatment of Europe, and he must have appeared the personification of a modern and supremely rational politics against the embattled monarchies of Europe.

Sargent took his subject more prosaically. In a letter of October 28th 1917 (quoted in Stanley Olson John Singer Sargent His Portrait London 1986) he remarks:

''It takes a man a long time to look like his portrait, as Whistler used to say - but he is doing his best, and has been very obliging about finding time for sittings. He is interesting to do, very agreeable to be with… and his wife approves and does not even think there is just a little something not quite right about the mouth.''
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