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Hays, Barton S. William Henry Harrison, 1869


Barton S. Hays was born in Greenville, Ohio, and moved to Indiana with his family around 1850–51. Hays was self-taught, and his parents were not enthusiastic about his time spent sketching fences and buildings. As an adult, he lived for a time in Wingate, Covington, and Attica, where he painted portraits of early settlers. In 1858 he moved to Indianapolis and occupied a studio in the same building as Jacob Cox. He continued to paint portraits and often painted enlargements of photographs. William Merritt Chase and John W. Love were briefly his pupils. Their study consisted of copying Hays works, which was a widely used method of art education at the time. According to William Forsyth, Hays “was a rather attractive and agreeable personality and especially kind to young artists who might visit him.”

  • William Henry Harrison, 1869
  • 36 1/4″ x 29 1/4″
  • Indiana Historical Bureau
  • Keywords: paintings, portraits, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: indoors, people, men, hands, chairs, military, presidents

Hays probably copied this portrait from a version of one painted around 1850. In his book Portraits and Painters, Wilbur Peat discusses this problem and rates Hays’s portrait “very forceful”: “It is a good likeness and an unusually convincing character study. Harrison’s expression is resolute and tense; a look of incisiveness, and not a little shrewdness, appears in the eyes and about the mouth; the forms of the head are strongly and fully modeled. Some of the picture’s strength comes from its rich, deep colors; ruddy flesh tones and deep blacks are placed against a greenish gray background, and red accents appear at the left where light falls on the upholstery of the chair.” The portrait was commissioned for the Indiana Governors’ Portrait Collection in 1869 by Gov. Conrad Baker.

William Henry Harrison was a Virginia native, well educated, and from a prominent but not wealthy family. He came west with Gen. Anthony Wayne, and served as secretary of the Northwest Territory, territory delegate to Congress, and governor of the Indiana Territory 1800–1812, and was a successful general in the War of 1812. He defeated the Prophet, half-brother of the Shawnee chief Tecumseh, at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. He went on to a successful political career in Ohio and was elected President of the United States in 1840. He died on April 4, 1841, only one month after his inauguration—the shortest presidential term in American history.

Some Points To Consider

  • List on the board or a flip chart the criteria Wilbur Peat used to determine the success of the painting of William Henry Harrison. Remind students that it was painted in 1869. Ask them if they think Hoosier portraits had improved by that date. Why or why not? (Art 4.4.1)
  • Ask students to use Wilbur Peat’s criteria to make an informed judgment about an earlier Hoosier portrait. (Art 4.4.2)

Suggested Activities for Classroom Follow-Up

  • Allow class time for students to research the life of William Henry Harrison and the role he played in the settlement of Indiana. Have them write a short biography about their findings.
  • Help students create a large still life setting in the classroom. Ask each student to bring an object from home to add to the arrangement. Turn out the lights in the classroom, and then illuminate the arrangement using portable light sources from various angles. Each student should choose an area of the still life to observe closely and draw. Have students change positions and draw a new area. Compare and exhibit the various interpretations.