Portrait of William Preston Harrison

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Portrait of William Preston Harrison

United States, 1924
Paintings
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 52 1/16 × 40 1/16 in. (132.24 × 101.76 cm) Frame: 59 1/8 × 47 1/8 in. (150.18 × 119.7 cm)
Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection (25.6.2)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

William Preston Harrison (1869-1940) was the pioneer collector of American art in Los Angeles, and his collection, given to the Los Angeles Museum during the 1920s and 1930s, formed the basis of its e...
William Preston Harrison (1869-1940) was the pioneer collector of American art in Los Angeles, and his collection, given to the Los Angeles Museum during the 1920s and 1930s, formed the basis of its early holdings. He was also an important collector of French art. Son of Carter H. Harrison, five-time mayor of Chicago, and brother of Carter Harrison, also a Chicago mayor, Preston Harrison came to Los Angeles in 1918 after having been involved in the family’s real estate ventures and serving as editor and publisher of the Chicago Times. He settled in Los Angeles with his wife, Ada Sanberg Harrison (see entry under ROBERT HENRI), and although he lived on the West Coast until his death, he maintained close ties with the Midwest. As did his brother in Chicago, Preston Harrison became involved in local cultural affairs: he served on the board of governors of the Los Angeles Museum (at the time of his death he was vice-president of the board) and was active in the Los Angeles Art Association and the Friends of Art of the Huntington Library. From its inception this portrait was intended for presentation to the museum, and it hung in the Harrison Room along with other paintings donated by the Harrisons. The portrait was painted in New York in June 1924. Typical of Adams’s painting method, it was completed in one day. Adams delineated the figure with long, sure strokes and the background with equally broad brushwork. Such rapid execution is characteristic of a student of Chase and Henri, and Henri may have suggested to Harrison that Adams be the one to paint his portrait. Adams portrayed Harrison with dignity, befitting his station. Harrison’s importance as a major patron of the arts is alluded to by the inclusion of a portrait of a crowned figure hanging on the wall behind him. Harrison wears a dark blue business suit and in his hands are a pair of gloves, a cane, and a hat. Every aspect of the painting evokes respectability and decorum. Adams was a master of facial characterization, and he presented Harrison as a generous, elderly man. Although admired by artists, the portrait received some criticism locally. The attacks by Los Angeles society were probably due mostly to jealousy over the portrait’s installation in a public museum, but even Harrison thought that the painting might be called "Old Grouchy."
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About The Era

The late nineteenth century witnessed a growing cosmopolitanism and sophistication in American culture....
The late nineteenth century witnessed a growing cosmopolitanism and sophistication in American culture. Great riches were amassed by railroad tycoons and land barons, and along with this came the desire for a luxurious standard of living. Collectors filled their homes with European as well as American works of art. American artists, generally trained abroad, often painted in styles that were indistinguishable from their European counterparts.
Most Americans who studied abroad did so in the European academies, which promoted uplifting subject matter and a representational style that emphasized well-modeled, clearly defined forms and realistic color. Academic painting served American artists well, for their clients demanded elaborate large-scale paintings to demonstrate their wealth and social positions. With an emphasis on material objects and textures, academic artists immortalized their patrons’ importance in full-length portraits.
Academic painting dominated taste in Europe throughout the century. But in the 1860s impressionism emerged in France as a reaction to this hegemony. By the 1880s this “new painting” was still considered progressive. Mary Cassatt was the only American invited to participate in the revolutionary Paris impressionist exhibitions. Despite her participation and the early interest of several other American painters, few Americans explored impressionism until the 1890s. Impressionist painters no longer had to choose subject matter of an elevated character but instead could depict everyday scenes and incidents. Nor did impressionists have to record the physical world with the objective detail of a photograph. Artists were now encouraged to leave their studios and paint outside under different weather conditions. American impressionists used the new aesthetic to capture the charm and beauty of the countryside and the city as well as the quiet delicacy of domestic interiors.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Curry, Larry.  American Pastels And Watercolors.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1969.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991.
  • About the Era.
  • Curry, Larry.  American Pastels And Watercolors.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1969.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991.
  • Robert Henri's California: Realism, Race, and Region 1914-1925. Laguna Beach: Laguna Art Museum; Fullerton, California: Grand Central Press, California State University, Fullerton, 2014. 
  • Muchnic, Suzanne. LACMA So Far: Portrait of a Museum in the Making. San Marino, California: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2015.
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