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Artist, Indiana Governors' Portrait Collection
Conrad Baker (1817-1885)
Governor of Indiana
January 23, 1867-January 13, 1873
Artist: James Forbes, American, c.1800-?
oil on canvas, 36 x 29 (91.5 x 73.7)
Signed l.l.: Jas Forbes
CONRAD BAKER had his own portrait painted late in 1869 or early in 1870, as he was completing the collection for the state. His respect for James Forbes had grown so steadily as work on the different paintings progressed that he selected the visiting Scotsman rather than one of the resident artists to make it. This was the sixth and last of the Forbes commissions.
Baker is shown sitting in a chair, his body turned toward the left, holding a letter in his hand as though discussing its contents. He is a handsome man with regular features, a heavy beard, and thin brown hair; his expression is genial and his attitude sympathetic. The same rich tones are used here as in Forbes's earlier compositions. Against a gray-green background the healthy ruddiness of Baker's face makes a strong color note; the whites of the shirt, collar, cuffs, and paper are set in strong opposition to the black suit; and touches of green on the back of the chair repeat the general tone of the background.
For about ten years the picture by Forbes was not in the collection. It was removed in 1933, at the request of Governor Baker's children, some of whom felt that it was not as good a likeness of their father as an oil painting done by Cox from life in 1883. (1) A more casual, intimate rendering, the painting includes only the head and shoulders in an oval format. Miss Clara Barrett-Strait, a New York artist known to the Baker family, was engaged to copy the Cox portrait for the State House. The Barrett-Strait portrait was removed from the collection in December, 1943, when the Forbes portrait of Governor Baker was reinstated.(2)
(1) The portrait of Conrad Baker by Jacob Cox is in the collection of the Indiana Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. J. L. Kirby-Smith, 1971.
(2) The portrait by Miss Barrett-Strait was in the possession of Mrs. Evans Woollen, Sr., Indianapolis, in 1944, but can no longer be located.
Source: Peat, Wilbur D. Portraits and Painters of the Governors of Indiana 1800-1978. Revised, edited and with new entries by Diane Gail Lazarus, Indianapolis Museum of Art. Biographies of the governors by Lana Ruegamer, Indiana Historical Society. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society and Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1978.