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Indiana Governor Portrait Artist: Henry M. Colcord (1828? - 1906)

Henry M. Colcord

Artist, Indiana Governors' Portrait Collection

James Douglas Williams

James Douglas Williams (1808-1880)
Governor of Indiana
January 8, 1877-November 20, 1880

Artist: Henry M. Colcord, American, 1828(?)-1906(?)(1)
oil on canvas, 50 x 40 (127.0 x 101.1)

THE PORTRAIT of James D. Williams has puzzled historians for some time due to a lack of information regarding the artist who painted it. Dunn reported that it was painted by "a Mr. Colcord, an unknown transient." (2) Information from various sources has been accumulated since the first inquiries were made, but the story of Colcord's life and work remains sketchy. The earliest reference to this artist indicated that he was in Indianapolis in 1877, when he exhibited two portraits at Lieber's Art Emporium.(3) According to city directories of the period, an artist named Harry M. Colcord had a studio at 37 West Washington Street in Indianapolis in 1878 and 1879. An "H. Colcord" appeared as the contributor of a portrait in a catalogue for the 1878 exhibition sponsored by the Indiana Art Association, held in Indianapolis. The dropping of Colcord's name from the city directory after 1879 suggests that he left Indianapolis in 1880. It is then safe to assume that the portrait of James D. Williams was painted while the governor was in office, between 1877 and 1880. (4)

Colcord's manner of painting is characteristic of painters who have had little or no academic training, although the portrait reflects the artist's natural ability and sense of pleasing design. The flattened, angular forms create a severe effect, appropriate for the delineation of so plain and unaffected a man as James Williams.

Colcord's canvas is large, and upon it he has worked out an imposing composition. The governor sits facing the front, his right arm leaning on a table, his legs crossed, and his eyes directed toward the observer. The painting is laden with the cliches of official portraiture: a deliberate pose, table piled high with papers and books, and the ubiquitous column with draped curtain. Williams's customary "blue jeans" dress is a striking contrast to the strictly official setting. This portrayal of him as a tall, rawboned man with high cheekbones and large hands, is in keeping with early descriptions.

(1) Birth and death dates for Harry M. Colcord were found in the documentary files for the paintings by this artist in the Chicago Historical Society. The place of birth and death and the source for this information were not indicated, and they should therefore be confirmed before they are taken as fact.

(2) Dunn, Greater Indianapolis, I, 481.

(3) Indianapolis Saturday Herald, May 12, 1877, as cited in Peat, Pioneer Painters of Indiana, p. 200.

(4) It is not known where Colcord went upon leaving Indianapolis, but a group of four dated portraits by a Henry (a name interchangeable with "Harry") M. Colcord in the collection of the Chicago Historical Society sheds a somewhat dim light on the subsequent activities of this evasive artist. Sometime between 1880 and 1885, presumably in Chicago, Colcord painted a copy of George Peter Alexander Healy's portrait of the Chicago merchant, banker, and philanthropist Walter Loomis Newberry, the original of which is in the Newberry Library in Chicago. A portrait painted from life by Colcord in 1892 of Reverend Henry Gideon Perry, a Chicago Episcopalian priest, provides confirmation of the artist's activity in Chicago, although as much as twelve years later. The Chicago city directories for 1891, 1892, and 1893 list a James Colcord, artist, at 169 North Clark Street, and given the knowledge of Henry Colcord's presence in Chicago at that time, it is tempting to assume a familial connection between them. In 1896, Henry Colcord is himself listed in the city directory as artist, at 1807 Auditorium Tower. In this year Colcord painted the portrait of Abraham Lincoln from an ambrotype in the collection of the Chicago Historical Society.  The fourth dated portrait in the collection by Colcord is that of John Nelson Jewett, an Illinois state senator and prosperous Chicago lawyer. Painted in 1897, the portrait is the latest document of Colcord's artistic activity. More detailed information will hopefully be compiled at a future date regarding this artist whose reputation in his own time was sufficiently secure to attract several prestigious commissions.

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.