Andrew Jackson epitomized the political power of the expanding frontier and its democratic ideals. Virginia and Massachusetts had provided the first six presidents. In fact, Virginia’s western boundary had been the frontier in Thomas Jefferson’s early days; Jefferson’s own Louisiana Purchase had extended that frontier in one enormous leap. But now, for the first time since nationhood, the westward-looking pioneers, newly enfranchised and ever increasing in number, had a president of their own. Jackson, a native of the new frontier state of Tennessee, was also a military hero and old enough to be venerable—a characteristic increasingly appealing to the people of the young nation. Even a man like the Manhattan diarist Philip Hone, an anti-Jacksonian by temperament as well as politics, was compelled to acknowledge “The Man of the People (for he is such in a greater degree than any who has gone before him) . . . [is] certainly the most popular man we have ever known. . . . Talk of him as the second Washington! It won’t do now; Washington was only the first Jackson.”1Nevins 1927, 2: 94–97.
Understandably, many of the artists who portrayed Jackson chose to idealize the “Old Hickory.” This was especially true during his Presidency and retirement, for while Jackson was still a commanding figure in his sixties and seventies, he was also plagued by illness and old battle wounds. Hiram Powers and Miner Kellogg, however, had the honesty to portray him as he was in old age. Powers’s plaster bust of 1834–1835 precedes Kellogg’s portrait, and there is reason to suppose that Kellogg saw it, or a cast of it. Both men, though born elsewhere, spent much of their youth in Cincinnati where they knew each other well. Both studied drawing there around 1828 with Frederick Eckstein, a German immigrant. In 1833, Kellogg, nine years younger than Powers, was the first to leave Cincinnati, painting portraits in New Jersey and at West Point, before returning to Cincinnati in 1840.2A biographical note, details of the Jackson commission, and further bibliography on Miner K. Kellogg may be found in Golden Age, 76–77.
Meanwhile, Powers had gone to Washington late in 1834, financed by Nicholas Longworth and armed with a letter of introduction to President Jackson. The bust he produced became famous and influential in its penetrating naturalism. Almost half a century later, Miner Kellogg’s brother, Sheldon I. Kellogg, reported that he saw the plaster model in the White House in 1835 with “the Hero President by its side, and scrutinizing both critically, I can say it is a remarkable likeness of the Great Man.”3Letter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, February 12, 1883, in the museum archives. Gardner 1965. In 1849, Sheldon acquired the marble replica (now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), which was carved in Italy and not sent before 1846. It is possible that Miner Kellogg saw the plaster original before 1840, although this is not documented. Or he may have seen one of “a certain number of casts . . . made by Powers in Washington before the model was shipped to Italy.”4Wunder 1974, 182, Ibid., 187.
In 1840, after returning to Cincinnati, Kellogg was commissioned by a group of local Democrats to paint the portrait of the retired President. He spent six weeks at the Hermitage, Jackson’s Tennessee home, ample time to observe and record his subject. While Kellogg’s realism is pronounced, it is not as extreme as that of Powers’s bust.
Kellogg is known to have painted at least eight replicas of his original “outline” from life (now unlocated). In a late, though undated, list of “Paintings by M. K. Kellogg Still in His Own Possession,” the artist added that he had painted four replicas of Jackson for four unidentified members of Jackson’s cabinet, the paintings “still remaining in their department in Washington.”5A typescript of a document in pencil in the Indiana Historical Society where many Kellogg papers are held. The author is much indebted for this reference and other information about Miner K. Kellogg to John Davis, Wyeth Fellow (1989–1990) at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art. One of these must be the Collection’s portrait of Andrew Jackson. It may be that the portrait was left behind by John Forsyth, whom Van Buren had retained as Secretary of State from the Jackson administration, who served until March 3, 1841.6For a full discussion, see provenance.
Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.