Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men in Chicago, Photographically Illustrated by John Carbutt, 1868, Pages 627-633
Although our city has been more or less absorbed, during the years that are past, in the great work of building up a lasting foundation for her present and future greatness, thus compelling her to give almost exclusive attention to commercial enterprises, yet we are glad to chronicle the fact that, of late years, her attention has been turned, in a great degree, to the culture of the fine arts. To-day she boasts of a corps of artists whose busy fingers are constantly engaged in satisfying the increasing demands of her citizens for works of this description. Foremost in this list is he whose sketch we are about to write.
Geoege P. A. Healy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, July 15, 1813, being the eldest son of Captain William and Mary Healy. His father led an active life in his profession, as a captain in the merchant service. In the war of 1812, his vessel and cargo, in which his entire fortune was embarked, were captured by a British privateer, and he himself detained as a prisoner of war six months on the island of Antigua, after which time he was exchanged. On his return, he married Miss Mary Hicks, who was only fourteen years of age. From his mother Mr. Healy, no doubt, inherited his talent for painting, of which, however, he gave no indication until the age of sixteen, when it was developed by drawing maps for his school companions.
Two years later, Thomas Sully visited Boston, commissioned by the Athenaeum of that city to paint a whole-length portrait of its benefactor, the late Colonel Thomas H. Perkins. A friend of Mr. Healy Jane Stuart, Miss Jane Stewart, daughter of the late Gilbert Stuart—presented him to this great artist, who requested him to make a study from nature and copy a head by Stuart. When completed and shown to Mr. Sully, he, with his characteristic kindness, said: “By all means, Mr. Healy, make painting your profession.” Mr. Sully was commissioned by the St. George’s Society, seven years later, to go to London and paint Queen Victoria, and, at that time, looking at a portrait of Audubon, be bowed and said ” Mr. Healy, you have no reason to regret having taken my advice.”
The encouragement given to Mr. Healy in the autumn of 1831, emboldened the young man to take a painting room on Federal street, in a house belonging to the late Richard Tucker, to whom our young artist went at the end of the first quarter, saying he had not earned enough to pay the rent. The reply was: “Then Charles and John must sit to you.” The former was his only son, and the latter his son-in-law, John Henry Gray. These, the first portraits Mr. Healy exhibited, were seen at the Athenseum in 1832. The following spring, he was painting Lieutenant Van Brunt, of the Navy, to whom he said he wished he knew some beautiful woman whose picture he might place in the coming exhibition, to open in a few weeks. He had, early that morning, been permitted to see them hanging the pictures at the Athenseum, where he noticed an exquisite likeness of Mrs. Sully, painted by her husband, our greatest painter of women. This it was that inspired the wish. Said Lieutenant Van Brunt: ” Mr. Healy, stop this sitting, and go at once to Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis; say to her that you are painting my picture, and tell her what you said to me.” The young artist called, and sent word to the lady that a gentleman wished to see her on business. He was received with great kindness, and, after listening to the simple facts, Mrs. Otis laughed, and said: “Pray, whom have I the pleasure of addressing?” She then received the artist’s card, and promised to call very soon and see the portraits of her friends, Lieutenant Van Brunt and John Henry Gray. The following day, she called with a friend, and, on taking leave of Mr. Healy, said: “I am pleased with what I have seen; call. at my house when you have time.” He allowed one day to pass, and then presented himself, but his timidity deprived him of speech. The generous lady, seeing his confusion, relieved him by saying: “When shall I sit?” Still seeing him unable to utter a word, she smilingly added: “Shall it be to-morrow?” Mr. Healy exclaimed, with gratitude: “I must prepare for you, madam; let it be the following day, if you please.” The result of the first sitting was, from his nervousness, beyond doubt, the poorest effort our artist ever made; but he was encouraged to persevere, and, at the second sitting, he placed the mirror in such a position that his charming sitter could see the progress of the work, which amused her, and thus he caught her laughing expression.
This work enabled Mr. Healy to leave a handsome sum of money with his mother, and to go to Europe, with a thousand dollars in his pocket, in the spring of 1834. He studied two years in Paris, during which time he drew from the life, and copied a number of pictures in the Louvre. While thus occupied, he was very much gratified by the remarks of an English gentleman and lady, upon his copy of Correggio’s ” Mysterious Marriage of St. Catherine.”
Late that autumn, he started for Italy, by the way of Mount Cenis. While on the piazza of the hotel at the first town on the plains of Italy where the diligence stopped, a lady came towards him, extending her hand and saying: “I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Mr. Healy; I am Lady Faulkner; Sir Arthur and I met you in the Louvre, and have since passed two months in the society of your friend, Mrs. Otis, now at Geneva, from whom we have heard all about you; we insist on your dining with us, and accepting a seat in our carriage for the balance of your journey through Italy” Thus commenced one of the most delightful friendships of our artist’s life. The first gallery visited was at Turin; the two works he most vividly remembered were the pictures of Van Dyke’s “Children of Charles I.,” and a cabinet-sized portrait of a burgomaster, by Rembrandt. Mr. Healy reveled in the palaces and pictures at Genoa, from which city the party followed the coast, en route for Florence, by way of Sienna. The journey was rendered extremely interesting by Sir Arthur’s translating Horace’s description of the very scenes through which tliey were so little changed by the lapse of centuries. During five weeks passed in Florence, Mr. Healy copied Titian’s Venus and one or two other important works. The Faulkners had letters from Royalty to the best people in Florence, and their young protege was presented as if he were one of their an advantage fully appreciated by Mr. Healy, and which was extended to him at Rome and Naples, where he took an affectionate leave of his friends.
On his way back to Paris, he stopped two months at Geneva, where he painted Mrs. Otis and family, besides many English people. In July, he returned to Paris and made several copies in the Louvre, painting, evenings, from the life.
In the spring of 1836, he visited London for the first time, and saw the last exhibition ever held in Somerset House; he also painted a portrait of Bentham and Burdett—the well-known Francis Place.
In the autumn of that year, Joseph Hume wrote a note saying he would be glad to sit if he could obtain so good a likeness, to accomplish which he returned in the early part of January. The note reached Mr. Healy while on a sketching tour, (some of the studies of which are now in his studio,) during which expedition he made a journey of three hundred leagues on foot, in company with two French artists.
During Mr. Hume’s sittings, Mr. Healy spoke of his visit to Italy, in connection with the kindness of Sir Arthur Brook Faulkner ; he replied ” He was one of the stewards of the great reform dinner given to myself and colleague last night, and now resides in St. John’s Wood.” Mr. Healy was warmly received by his friends, and Sir Arthur gave him a commission to paint his Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex and himself. With this handsome opening, he painted with great success until the summer of 1838, when the American Minister, Andrew Stevenson, gave him a commission to paint a portrait of Marshal Soult, saying “Mr. Healy, you must arrange with General Cass, our Minister in Paris, in regard to the sittings.” The artist wrote to that gentleman, saying that Mr. Stevenson wished this portrait as a commemoration of the Marshal who had so nobly represented France at the recent coronation of Queen Victoria. The reply of General Cass reached Mr. Healy while making studies in Belgium, saying: ” Come to Paris, and I will do what I can to induce the Marshal to sit for you; in the meantime, I wish you to paint myself and family, for, although young in years, your fame has reached me.” The Marshal was unable to sit at that time. During the sittings of General Cass, that gentleman said “How would you like to paint a portrait of Louis Philippe?” at which our artist laughed, as if that were impossible. The General asked the King to sit, but His Majesty declined on the score of want of time. When, however, he saw the portrait of General Cass in the Louvre, he decided otherwise, and when he next saw the General at Court, said: ” Inform your young friend that, when he visits Paris again, it will be a pleasure for me to sit to him.” This the General communicated to Mr. Healy in London. On completing his commissions as rapidly as possible, he returned to Paris, and was accompanied by General Cass near His Majesty for the first sitting. When permission was asked to take the measure of his face, the reply was ” Do as you are accustomed, Mr. Healy, so as not to lose time.” With this permission, the rapid ascent of two or three steps took him to where the King sat. The new dividers in the hand of the artist gleamed like a poignard, and one of the aids rushed forward to seize the arm, when Louis Philippe observed ” Monsieur le General, Mr. Healy is a republican from the United States, and there is no danger.” This was said in consequence of two or three attempts which had, not long before, been made on the life of the King.
During this year, Mr. Healy painted the portrait of Mrs. Cass, which, in the exhibition at the Louvre, in the spring of 1840, obtained for him his first gold medal. During this year he returned to London, formed a matrimonial alliance with Miss Louisa Phipp, of that city, and returned to Paris, where he resumed the sittings of Louis Philippe. During one of these, in 1842, His Majesty observed: ” I was seen in good company last night, at the grand ball given by General Cass to commemorate the birthday of General Washington, hanging, as I did, between the portraits of that great man and M. Guizot.” The King’s portrait, although unfinished, General Cass had placed between the two, as above mentioned. The King said: ” Mr. Healy, where did you get the likeness of General Washington?” The reply was ” From an engraving in the life Avritten by Sparks.” “I thought so, as I know of no portrait of Washington in France.” His Majesty here said, with a kindness of manner never to be forgotten: “Mr. Healy, I want a whole-length portrait of General Washington for my historical gallery at Versailles, and I wish it (bowing) from your pencil.” This was said at the end of the sitting, and the artist worked no more that day. Here the King showed an intimate knowledge of the different portraits of the General. Our artist suggested that he should make a copy of the whole-length likeness in Faneuil Hall, Boston the King said ” I wish, rather, for a copy of that which Mrs. Bingham ordered Stuart to paint, and which I saw in its progress in the artist’s studio, for that is in his black velvet, as President, and not as General. That picture is now in London. M. le Comte St. Auler, our Ambassador, shall be instructed to obtain permission for you to copy it, and I will send for you in a week.” The King was true to his word, and on meeting, the first thing he said was ” Mr. Healy, we are dished; the portrait in question has gone to St. Petersburg, where I may not send you; I now leave this matter in your hands. Proceed to the United States, and do as well as you can from the one in the Presidential Mansion, which Avas saved by Mrs. Madison when the British took Washington.”
Mr. Healy returned to Boston after an absence of eight years, lost no time in executing the work confided to him, and was received most kindly by Washington Allston, to whom he delivered a message from the Duke of Sutherland, in regard to the picture ordered for him by his brother-in-law, Lord Morpeth. The painter’s reply was: “I informed his Lordship that I could not complete that work until my great picture, on which I have been occupied for twenty-five years, is finished.”
Mr. Healy showed his copy to a friend in London, who remarked ” That is from one of West’s.” Upon being corrected, he said: “I thought it was, as I saw one like it among the effects of the late Johu D. Lewis.” Mr. Healy expressed regret that that picture was then in St. Petersburg. “No,” said his friend, “it is in this neighborhood, stored in Silbury’s warehouse.” This was joyful news, and he obtained from the executors permission to finish the copy from the original, which copy now hangs at Versailles. The Marquis of Lansdowne, having quarreled with his heirs, sold the library and pictures; the portrait was purchased by Moon, Boys Graves, the great printsellers of that day, who tried to dispose of it to the English Government. The Duke of Wellington and other members of the Cabinet went to see it, but, although admiring the work and the character of the original, decided that they could not hang the portrait of a traitor to England in the National Gallery. The firm then disposed of it by lottery, and thus it came into the hands of the late John D. Lewis.
On Mr. Healy’s return to Paris, Monsieur Guizot, after a Cabinet meeting, was invited to see this picture, with the remark: “I wish you to see what my American painter has done for me.” Apropos to M. Guizot, the year before, the Americans in Paris, as a compliment to the Prime Minister for his pamphlet on Washington, and his other writings, ordered Mr. Healy to paint his whole-length portrait, to be placed in Washington, wherever President Tyler should think most appropriate to hang it. That gentleman expressed to the artist his fear that, wherever it was placed, he would be found fault with; but in that he was mistaken, for all approved of its being hung in the National Institute—it now occupies a place in the Smithsonian.
In 1844, the King commissioned Mr. Healy to make copies of the portraits of the royal personages, from Elizabeth down to William IV., together with those of the most eminent statesmen. While still executing these orders, he was instructed to proceed in all haste to paint the portrait of General Jackson, and several of the Presidents and statesmen of our country. These being done, he obtained permission from his Majesty to return to the United States, to make the studies for his great picture of “Webster Replying to Hayne,” the studies for, and the execution of which work, occupied him seven years. It was purchased by the city of Boston, and is now in Fanueil Hall. Before it was completed, Louis Philippe was dethroned, and when Mr Healy deplored this fact to his friend, George Ticknor, that gentleman replied: “The best patron an artist can have is the public.”
On his return to Europe, Mr. Healy paid his respects to his patron and family at Claremount, where he was most cordially received. Our artist’s next important work represents Franklin, Lee and Dean, negotiating a treaty of alliance between France and the struggling Colonies. This work, now in Chicago, obtained for him his second gold medal at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, in 1855, in which year Mr. Healy first came to Chicago, where his family followed him the year after. The family returned to Paris in 1866, where Mr. Healy joined them during the past summer.
We need not add a word as to the great success which has uniformly attended Mr. Healy’s efforts to please his patrons in Chicago, as it has become proverbial that to engage a sitting with him is to secure a finished likeness.
A more perfect gentleman, genial companion and affectionate parent need not be looked for, than he of whom we have written. A friend to the poor, always ready to lend a helping hand to those who are struggling for success, especially in the art circles of which he is the acknowledged head, he has Avon a place in the affections of hundreds of our citizens, which time cannot efface.
Chicago Tribune, June 25, 1894
G. P. A. Healy, the celebrated portrait painter, died at 2:30 o’clock yesterday morning at his residence, No. 387 Ontario street, of exhaustion brought on by the hoy weather. About a year ago he fell and sustained injuries on the head from which he never fully recovered. It was this, doubtless, that had something to do with his inability to withstand the heat. Furthermore Mr. Healy was within a few days of the 81st anniversary of his birth, consequently had lost much of his vigor. Then, too, his entire life had been singularly free from sickness; therefore, as seems to be generally true in nearly all such cases, when he began to lose vitality the end came quickly. Only last week, however, did his wasting strength begin to make itself seriously felt and he remained confined at home. Up to five days ago it had been customary with him to go to his studio on Huron, near State street, every morning.
The end was calm and peaceful. The great artist quietly fell asleep and was no more. His wife, two daughters, and a grandson were at his bedside. His son, George Healy, was in New York at the time, and two of his daughters, Mme. Charles Bigot and Miss Edith Healy, are in Paris. The time of the funeral has not yet been decided upon, but it is known that the remains will be buried at Calvary Cemetery.
Sketch of His Busy Life.
Mr. Healy was one of the most celebrated portrait artists in the world. His fame extended over two continents. His name and his works are as well known in England, Germany, France, and Italy as in America. He had painted the pictures of many of the most distinguished men and women of all these countries, and among his patrons he numbered more crowned heads than any artist in his time. He was born in Boston July 15, 1813, of humble parents. While yet a lad in knickerbockers his father died, and at the age of 15 he was earning a livelihood for himself and supporting his mother. Some of his first drawings attracted the attention of Boston people, and when only 18 years old he painted a portrait of Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis that laid the foundation for his future reputation. Copies of the original picture are familiar to every one the world over. It represents an exceedingly beautiful woman laughing in such a way as to show her pretty teeth to the best advantage. After completing this picture, which was his first important effort, young Healy was enabled to go to Paris, where he studied for a time. Lewis Cass, then Minister to the Court of France, became interested in the young man and helped him along. Through his influence he succeeded in getting Mr. Healy an order from the throne to paint the portrait of King Louis Philippe. His success in the work was so pronounced that he at once became a favorite with the King, who sent him to this country with a commission to paint portraits of George Washington, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Andrew Jackson, and other distinguished American statesmen, to be hung in the gallery of the Louvre. Before Healy returned to France, King Louis had been dethroned, but the portraits were hung and are there now. During his first years in Paris he executed a great many pictures that were hung in the Salon exhibitions and received the highest awards. Among his effects the dead artist leaves a score or more of medals. It is said that one time a wealthy American family visiting in Paris were so favorably struck with a copy of “Noces de Cana,” done by Mr. Healy and hung in the palace museum, that they toolk the artist in their chaise and carried him away on a pleasure trip with them. It was in 1841 that he painted the portrait of King Louis Philippe.
Other Noted Portraits Painted.
While in America executing the King’s order he also painted a portrait of Benjamin Franklin and Louis XVI together, from which a medal was made in Paris. He also painted portraits of the Pope, President Theirs, Gambetta, Bismarck, Liszt, Lord Lytton, and many crowned heads of Europe. Among the finest pictures painted by him on this side of the water was his famous “Peace Picture,” the figures in which were life-size representations of Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, and Porter. This work was destroyed by fire at the Calumet club last year. He also painted other Generals of the war, the poet Longfellow, and scores of the distinguished men of the country. Among the members of royalty his warmest friends and admirers were King Charles I, and Carmen Sylva, Queen of Roumania, whose portraits he painted several times. Among his works are paintings of nearly all great people, covering a period of more than fifty years. One of the last portraits turned out by him was of the Duke d’Aumale of France.
Mr. Healy was married in 1840 at London to Miss Louisa Phipps, who survives him. Four daughters and one son are the fruit of their marriage. They are Mme. de Mare and Mme. Charles Bigot of Paris, Miss Edith Healy, Miss Kathleen Healy, and George Healy. Mme. de Mare and her four children, Miss Kathleen, and the son are here.
Mr. Healy came to Chicago first in 1856 and remained until 1866, when he returned to Paris. His home then was on Wabash avenue, near Jackson street. It was destroyed by the big fire. During his last residence in Paris he used to come to America for a two or three months’ stay almost every year. He retained his interest in Chicago and three years ago he came back with his family to make this city his final home. He was the friend and companion of nearly all the older citizens and had painted the portraits of one or the other of the parents of those who knew him in their childhood. An exhibit of his work was one of the attractive features of the portrait department of the Art Palace at the Exposition last year.