Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of President Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924) 1919

Frank O. Salisbury RA (1872-1964)

Portrait of President Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924), Frank O. Salisbury RA
Black and white chalks on paper
20th Century
22¾ x 17 inches 57,8 x 43.2 cm 57.8 x 43.2 cm, 22¾ x 17 inches
Christie's, The Studio of Frank Owen Salisbury, 25 September 1985, lot 158
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Frank Salisbury’s great affection for the United States, and the considerable patronage that enjoyed there owed their inception to two circumstances. The ambition to become a portraitist of the society and politicians of America, as well as of Great Britain, was first suggested to Salisbury by John Singer Sargent, who was well-aware of the vast patronage to be disposed of on the other side of the Atlantic. The single event, though, which fixed Salisbury on this course was the commssion secured for him by his mentor Lord Wakefield with the American President Woodrow Wilson when the latter was in London en route for Paris and the concluding negotiations of the Treaty of Versailles, which would lead to the establishment of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations.

It was recognized at the time that this League was a conception of great historical importance, and Salisbury clearly felt that as well as getting his foot in the door of Anglo-American society, this commission would link his name forever with a crucial instant in the evolution of modern global politics. Three of the seventeen sketches made by Salisbury for this commission were sold in his studio sale in 1985, of which this is one. No others are now known to exist; all three examples follow the general composition of the present example, and show the great man seated in a chair with a document in his hand, perhaps intended in the final, never-executed oil painting to be the draft charter of the League of Nations. The formal commission which Wakefield had made on behalf of the City of London had been to commemorate the foundation of the League. As is recorded in the artist’s draft autobiography Sarum Chase, events intervened. The President was obliged to leave for Paris before work could begin on the oil painting, and thence he returned to the States where he died in 1924, a year before the painter’s first visit to America. The experience for Salisbury was a crucial one, however, and the sitter and the connections required for the sittings – he had been assisted by the US Ambassador to Great Britain, John William Davis, who was an admirer of Salisbury’s work and an advisor to Wilson – served as a good model for the future successes in America, and for the portraits that Salisbury would paint of a further five Presidents.
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