George Healy Edward Gay Mason - First President, University Club of Chicago (2012)
Oil on Canves 30.0 x 25.0 x 0.0
University Club of Chicago


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The artistic ability to evoke the essence, or character, of an individual in a portrait is not easily found. George P. A.

Healy, however, had the innate skill to transform a portrait into a timeless encapsulation of his sitter’s character, personality, and essence. George P. A. Healy (1818-1894) was born in Boston.

As a child, he showed natural talent for creating art, and with his parents encouragement, taught himself throughout his adolescence. Still an adolescent, he became known in the city for his portraiture abilities. Precocious in his professional development, at age 19 he sought out the local leader in ladies’ society life at the time, Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis, and asked that she sit for him.

The portrait garnered him a great deal of attention and success, and in 1834 he traveled to Paris and entered the studio of Baron Gros. During this time, he became close friends with artist Thomas Couture, and he garnered a more elite portraiture audience. In 1855, he painted French royalty and exhibited the work at that year’s Paris Exhibition.

There, he won a gold medal for his work, which was the highest honor an American artist received at the time. While in Paris, Healy befriended William B. Ogden, known as “the father of Chicago,” and through Ogden’s encouragement, Healy took residence in the developing city. Armed with an international reputation for portraiture and a number of accolades, Healy would go on to paint generals, prominent society figures, and academic elite.

One of his most well known portraits is of American president Abraham Lincoln, executed in his early years in Chicago. In 1967 he returned to Paris due to failing heath, where he remained for many years to come.

Notable portraits during this time abroad include, King Louis Philippe of France, the Princess of Romania, Jules Simon, Bismarck, Lord Lyons, and Whitelaw Reid. As his health continued to falter, he felt it time to travel home, and in 1892, he returned to Chicago where he would die on June 24, 1894.

As one of the early artists to take up residency in Chicago, Healy is a key figure in Chicago’s growth and reputation as a harbor for international artistic excellence. His superlative career is evident along many of the walls of the Newberry library, Chicago. Edward Gay Mason is a portrait of the figure in the midyears of his life.

Mason was the son of Roswell B. Mason, who was mayor of Chicago from 1860-1871. Edward Mason became a layer, but was also an avid scholar of Illinois history and published multiple books on the subject. In 1887, he became the president of the Chicago Historical Society. He was also the first president of the University Club of Chicago and his influence in Chicago’s growth and history is felt to this day.

Healy’s portrait depicts Mason as a respectable and admirable figure. Seated in front of a solid black background, the figure is the central subject matter in the composition and the background offers no other sense of space or further context.

With his head looking to the left and angled slightly upwards, there is nobility to the figure’s character. He gazes outwards towards the left with his mouth closed in a relaxed manner. The particulars in his appearance signal a care for detail and gentlemanly order; his hair in neatly parted and combed and his mustache carefully trimmed.

A slight white collar emerges around his neck, and the white color contrasts the largely black composition drawing attention towards his neck and face. By shrouding the rest of his body in non-descript black that nearly matches the black background, the viewer’s attention is oriented specifically towards the figure’s face.

In this, Healy creates a portrait that frames the figure and draws emphasis towards his respectable, calm, and refined demeanor.

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