WILSON, President Woodrow


Description:
Three quarter length, standing behind a desk his left hand clenching his speech his right hand as a fist just banged down on the desk. Oil on canvas, 60.1/2” x 40.1/2” (152.7 x 101.9 cms), signed and dated 1918.

Location:
The League of Nations, Museum of the History of the League of Nations and of International Organisation, Library wing, Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.

Provenance:
Presented by Lord Duveen, April 23, 1935.

Exhibitions:
M. KNOEDLER & CO., 556, Fifth Avenue, New York, May 1918 as ‘President Wilson making his War Speech”’

Bibliography:
Vaterland, Lucerne, Switzerland, June 9, 1916
Luzerner Tagblatt, November 10, 1917
Town Topics, New York, Thursday, May 23, 1918
New York Evening World, May 27, 1918 – “Portrait Shows Wilson Reading His War Message” by W. G. Bowdoin
Anneleen de Jong, La représentation de l’humanité: Collection des oeuvres d’art de l’office des Nations Unies à Genève, Geneva, 2001

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Notes

After Muller-Ury had completed the portrait of Mrs.Wilson in May 1916, he apparently suggested in a letter to Mrs. Wilson that he be allowed ‘the chance soon to paint a wonderful portrait as I have sketched already of the President.’ In a letter to Colonel Edward House, who had commissioned the portrait of Mrs. Wilson, the artist wrote to him on May 8, 1916 (Yale University Library, E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808) saying: ‘…I only hope I can even show my art in painting as I planned at your suggestion a marvellous portrait of the great President — Please don’t let Laszlo do that.’  This sketch was almost certainly not from life and may have been a drawing not an oil.  (But it is not impossible that this ‘sketch’ was actually the picture he gave to the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace in Staunton, VA in 1943). This is also apparently confirmed by the Swiss paper Vaterland, Lucerne, June 9, 1916. Muller-Ury had a chance of a second sketch of Wilson, this time from life, when he attended with Colonel House President Wilson’s Declaration of War to Congress on April 2, 1917. The story can be followed with some precision from the copies of surviving correspondence amongst the artist’s papers and the papers of Colonel Edward M. House at Yale.

A letter in the Yale University Library, dated June 5, 1917 (E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808) from Muller-Ury to Colonel House reads:

‘My dear Col House

I would like so much to have a talk with you regarding the portrait of the President & I wish you let me know when I could see you or when you could come to my studio to see same again. —  I think that I did better than I even expected & with one sitting or two the work would be finished — Did you speak to the President?  Few people have seen the portrait — and all are pleased & surprised.

        Most sincerely yours, Adolfo Muller Ury.’

On June 8, 1917 House replied from Magnolia, Massachusetts (artist’s papers; carbon copy, Yale University Library, same reference):

‘Dear Mr. Muller-Ury:

I am sorry that I shall not be in New York again during the summer, otherwise it would give me great pleasure to call at your studio and again see the wonderful portrait of the President which you have created.

I have spoken to the President about it and when you are ready for a sitting I shall ask him to grant your request.  If I were you, I should wait however, until Congress adjourns which should be before long. 

             Sincerely yours, E. M. House.’

The artist must have written suggesting now would be a good time for a sitting nevertheless, and House put him off diplomatically in a reply dated June 19, 1917 (artist’s papers; carbon copy, Yale University Library, same reference):

‘Dear Mr. Muller-Ury:

I dislike to ask the President just now to give you a sitting. 

I never noticed that he tanned during the summer but in this I may be mistaken.

Let me suggest that you write the Attorney-General and ask him to make the request of the President in the event he thinks the President could possibly spare the time.  I will cooperate with Gregory in the matter if you will send me a copy of the letter you write him.

I am delighted to know that the portrait of the President is receiving so much praise. I have a feeling that it may be the one great portrait of him that will live.

              With all good wishes, I am,

                         Sincerely yours, E. M. House.’ 

Nothing may have transpired with the Attorney General, but on September 4, 1917, the artist wrote from his New York studio to House at Magnolia, Massachusetts (Yale University Library, E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808):

‘My dear Col. House

I never wrote to you answering your kind note — as I could not see myself how the President could give me any sittings — but I sincerely hope that some day soon you wll be able to arrange that too. — I have been working in different place[s] during the summer & will be at my studio for good in a few days.— I hope that you & Mrs. House not only had an ideal summer but that you [are] feeling well & rested.

            Kindest regards I sent to [you] both

                      Yours sincerely, Adolfo Muller-Ury.’

House responded briefly in a letter dated September 6, 1917 (carbon copy, same source):

‘Dear Mr. Muller-Ury:

I expect to be in New York around the 25th of September and if you will telephone me then I shall be glad to take up again with you the question of a sitting from the President.

        Sincerely yours, [E. M. House].’

Another letter from House (artist’s papers) written on December 29, 1917 from his New York address is worth quoting in full:

‘Dear Mr. Muller-Ury:

Thank you for your good wishes and kindly estimate of my work abroad. It is good of you to think so highly of it.

I believe if you will call my attention to the matter of the portrait around the end of January that a sitting might be arranged. Congress assembles next week and for sometime thereafter the President will be extremely busy.

I do not particularly like the Sargent portrait and for reasons which I will give you verbally.

            Sincerely yours, E. M. House.’

Presumably the artist got some more sittings from Wilson with the help of House, though House did not see the results.  On February 15, 1918 the artist wrote from his studio in New York to House (Yale University Library, E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808) as follows:

‘My dear Col. House

In some way[s] I am glad you did not come before as I worked hard again this week on the portrait of the President.  Now I think I succeeded to do more than I even expected & it is by far the best I ever did, & I hope the nation will some day ? appreciate what an artist did. —

The portrait is the work of many & many months of hard work, under the greatest difficulties & disadvantages, but I hope it will be appreciated & in that case it will make up for the hard struggles and worries —

      Most sincerely yours, Adolfo Muller-Ury.’

Apparently there were seven more formal sittings between the end of 1917 and the early part of 1918 to supplement the initial sketches and nearly completed portrait. (The Luzerner Tagblatt, November 10, 1917 mentions that Muller-Ury worked on the picture during this Summer.)

Ray Stannard Baker, in his 1939 book Woodrow Wilson: Armistice, March 1-November 11, 1918, p.93, states that ‘The President sat for a short time before the cabinet meeting for Adolfo Muller-Ury, portrait painter’.

The portrait was all but finished by early April 1918. On April 11, 1918, the artist received the following telegram from the White House (artist’s papers) for what may have been the last sitting for the picture:

DRAWINGROOM RESERVED IN NAME OF HOOVER THE WHITE HOUSE CONGRESSIONAL FRIDAY GET TICKET AT LEAST ONE HOUR BEFORE TRAIN TIME HAVE ALSO ARRANGED ABOUT FRAME HOOVER.

On May 12, 1918, the artist wrote from his New York studio to House (Yale University Library, E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808) as follows:

‘My dear Col. House

After you were here last time I got a wonderful photo from Hoover & I have worked at the picture of the President all the time – & at last I got the portrait as I wanted it. — If agreable to you at your convenience this week I would like so much to show you the wonderful improvement in the portrait.  I like to expose the picture at Knoedler (Fifth Av) very soon now — Mr Knoedler was here this morning & he is most enthusiastic about the portrait.

         Most sincerely yours, Adolfo Muller-Ury.’

The picture was exhibited at M. KNOEDLER & CO., 556, Fifth Avenue in May 1918.  W. G. Bowdoin in the New York Evening World, May 27, 1918, commenting on its exhibition at KNOEDLER said ‘…the artist has been vigorous in this portrait of Wilson the Statesman and the black frock coat, the turn-down collar, with the four-in-hand tie, and face illumined, in great and solemn earnestness, all enter most effectively into the finished work…’  An anonymous cutting in the artist’s papers around May 1918 adds, ‘…The President is more robust looking in this portrait than in the one painted by John S. Sargent and exhibited earlier this season in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.’

The picture was to have been shown at the Paris Salon in 1919.  The artist tried to interest House in this matter at the start of 1919 and House replied from 115, East 53rd Street, New York on January 6, 1919 (Yale University Library, E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808) as follows:

‘Dear Mr. Muller-Ury:

I have been trying ever since I received your not to find time to call at your studio but have not been able to do so.

We are leaving for Texas in a few days to be gone several weeks.

I shall look forward when I return to seeing not only the portrait you mention but your other work as well.

        With all good wishes, I am

               Sincerely yours, [E. M. House.]’

Presumably two more letters were exchanged (now lost), and the artist responded to House’s reply (from Paris?) on February 19, 1919 (typescript copy of original, Yale University Library, E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808):

‘My dear Colonel House

I am glad to hear that you are well again and so be able to continue the marvellous good work for which not only America but the whole world will be grateful.  Some fanatics republican are making a good deal of trouble for the President, but I am glad to see that the people are beginning to see their abominable purpose.  —  I have painted another portrait of the Attorney General Gregory and it is one of my best works — The other I destroyed — I have sent through Knoedler and Co, 17 Place Vendôme the portrait of the President which I want to exhibit in the Spring Salon.  I worked a great deal again and now everybody considers this work my best — I wrote to Knoedler’s agent to have a photogravure made from same — If you have time you might go there to see the portrait and may be you can use your influence so as to see it placed in a good light in the Salon — I may go to Switzerland this summer to see my old mother who is 85 ——  The world is looking at Wilson and you to save them, and they will.  Remember me kindly to Mrs. House and believe me

                 Your grateful, Adolf Muller-Ury.’

House was evidently far too busy with the arrangements for the Peace conference at Versailles in April, May and June 1919, but the artist wrote hopefully to him on April 29, 1919 (typescript copy of original, Yale University Library, E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808) that he might assist him:

‘Hon Commissioner Plenipotentiary

My dear Col House

I just received from Knoedler’s agent Hamman in Paris 17 Place Vendome — in which he tells me that the portrait of the President is in Havre and that he is unable to get same to Paris.  It seems that the French High Commissioner even after promising to attend to the safe arrival in Paris, never did anything — and now the portrait is too late for the Salon.  I am very unhappy about this naturally, as I hoped for so much. —

I want to have a photogravure made in Paris as it is the only place such work is done well and I wish you use your influence to get the portrait to Knoedler.  Their agent could tell your secretary where the portrait is and how to get same to Paris.  I am really very much upset about this sad affair — the Hon Gregory will be able to tell you how he aranged (sic) everything with the State Department — and then?

My kindest regards I send to you and Mrs. House and hoping that this note will find you in good health I remain

               Yours sincerely, Adolfo Muller-Ury.’

(The arrangements had evidently been made largely through the auspices of the Attorney General, T. W. Gregory, but the Acting French High Commissioner, Mr. de Billy, neglected to do his part and the portrait was too late for its inclusion in the Salon).

For approximately ten years the matter of where the picture should be sent seems to have remained undecided. Correspondence that is missing from the summer and autumn of 1927 may have indicated that the artist thought that the picture might be appropriate for the League of Nations in Geneva.  On December 10, 1927, the artist wrote to House from his studio in San Marino, California (Yale University Library, E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808) as follows:

‘My dear Col. House

Before leaving New York I spoke to my friend Sir Joseph Duveen about the portrait of President Wilson & he said that if you speak to John D. Rockefeller Jr. he would not only be very glad to tell him all he knows about the work, but that he would be pleased to do so. —

Would you kindly let Sir Joseph Duveen know when you have spoken to Mr Rockefeller?  You can always reach him at his office at 5th Ave & 56th str.  I hate to always give you some trouble but I surely would appreciate everything you will  do regarding this important matter.

I will be in spring in N. Y. but if Mr. Rockefeller would like to see the portrait now I could give orders to Duveen Brothers to get the portrait at my studio & show same to Mr. R. at their place.

As the holidays are so near I take pleasure in wishing you & your lovely wife the Merriest of Chrstmases and sending my kindest regards I remain

       Yours most sincerely, Adolfo Muller-Ury.’

House’s reply dated December 26, 1927, in the artist’s papers, reveals that House was unhappy at the suggestion that the work would be given to the League of Nations in Geneva:

‘Dear Mr. Muller-Ury:

In thinking of your letter of December 10th, and after discussing it with some friends, I have decided that President Wilson’s picture delivering his War Address to Congress would not be appropriate for the League whose purpose is solely for the maintenance of peace.

Princeton University, the University of Virginia or, indeed, the Capitol at Washington should be its permanent resting place. I shall take occasion to speak to those interested when the opportunity occurs.

        With every good wish,

             Sincerely yours, E. M. House.’

The artist responded from San Marino on December 31, 1927 (Yale University Library, E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808):

Dear Col. House

Many thanks for your cordial and very kind letter.  Mr. Henry Robinson President of Los Angeles First National Bank was here when I received your letter this morning & I told him about the portrait & he said that he don’t see why the portrait don’t represent The President just opening Congress as he usually does. He stated that nobody would ever think of anything else seeing the portrait & that was his candid opinion.  Therefore he thinks the portrait should go to the League.

I just write what he says & on my part I agree with him.  As you know he was often in Geneva & you know him too.  I am just painting him again.

Thanking you most heartily for the interest taken & wishing you & Mrs. House the happiest New Year [you] ever had I remain with kindest regards

           Your most grateful, Adolfo Muller-Ury.’

Three years later, on December 20, 1930 whilst in San Marino Muller-Ury tried again to persuade House to concern himself over the disposition of the portrait (Yale University Library, E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808):

‘Dear Colonel House

I just want to send to you [a] few lines to wish to you & your charming wife the Merriest of Christmas[es] & the Happiest New Year.  Enclosed you will find a copy of a letter received from Cardinal Cerretti which might interest you & may be your friends who may be interested in the President Wilson portrait.  If you speak to John D. Rockefeller Jr. just tell him what a great friend I am of Sir Joseph Duveen & that will surely please him & then he will ask about the portrait.

I send my kindest regards & hoping that you & Mrs. House enjoy the best of healt[h] I remain

       Your grateful, A. Muller-Ury.’

The artist was evidently still trying to persuade House to do something for the disposition of the portrait for he wrote again to House on May 9, 1934 from his studio in New York (Yale University Library, E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808):

‘Hon Colonel Edw M. House

Dear Mr. House

I would be so happy if you could come again to see the portrait of President Wilson before you go to the country.  I have the portrait at my studio 33 West 67th St & anytime convenient for you would please me.  I have shown same to few friends lately & everybody was enthusiastic of the work and interpretation of the portrait.

I hope you & your dear wife are enjoying the best of healt[h] & sending my best regards I remain

           Your grateful, A. Muller-Ury.’

House dashed off a polite but brief reply on May 14, 1934 (artist’s papers) reads:

‘Dear Mr. Muller-Ury:

We are getting ready to leave in a few days for the summer, otherwise I should be delighted to make another visit to see your remarkable portrait of President Wilson.

        With every good wish,

                    Sincerely yours, E. M. House.’

On September 22, 1934 the artist wrote from his New York studio to House yet again (Yale University Library, E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808):

‘Hon Colonel Edw. House

Dear Colonel

Different friends told me recently & even myself read that the Palace of The League of Nation[s] is at last practically finished & that this winter is going to be opened.

I am always afraid that somebody may be requested to paint some horrible portrait from photographs for the League & then it would be too late to present this portrait of mine. —

I am sure that Mr. Rockefeller would be delighted to present this portrait if he knew what work it is & that it was painted entirely from nature.  If times were not so bad & if I could afford it I would gladly give same to you so as to present same to Geneva Palace.

I should think somebody would surely be glad to give same to you & given by his greatest friend would add to the history of the Great Wilson.

I would like to have a talk with you as soon as it is agreable.

It would be a great pleasure for me to know that you & your charming wife had an ideal summer, & that you both are in better health than ever & sending my kindest regards

               I remain                      

                   Your grateful, A. Muller-Ury

P.S. I am leaving New York today for Washington & Pittsburgh & will return Saturday Sept. 29th.’

House responded from 104 East 68th Street, New York, on October 8, 1934 (Yale University Library, E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808):

‘Dear Mr. Muller-Ury:

I hope that you may be able to place in some public institution the masterly portrait you painted of President Wilson delivering his War Message to Congress.

It was a historic occasion, and your picture is one in which posterity will be interested.       

       Sincerely yours, [E. M. House].’

Despite House’s dislike of the idea that the portrait should not be given to the League of Nations in Geneva, there was little he could do about this when the following year Lord Duveen presented it there.  House had not paid for the work, and had merely perfunctorily answered the artist’s letters over the years since it was completed, so he could but be polite to the artist when he informed him of the event.  Most of the following documentation (except where stated) is held in the archives of The League of Nations in Geneva under reference 18B/17843/17843:

The history of the donation of the portrait properly begins when Lord Duveen wrote from his house at 15 East 91st Street, New York, to The Secretary-General of the League of Nations, Monsieur J. K. Avenol, on April 23, 1935 partly as follows:

‘Sir,

I would regard it as a privilege to be allowed to present to the League of Nations, a Portrait of the late President Woodrow Wilson, painted by an American artist, Mr. A. Muller-Ury. It is a portrait that has been much admired, especially by his friend and confidante, Colonel House, whose letter to Mr. Muller-Ury regarding the picture I have the pleasure to enclose; also a memorandum from the artist explaining the circumstances in which it was painted. Inasmuch as the late President was so closely identified with the founding of the League, I believe that, because of its historical importance, its logical home would seem to be the League of Nations. If my offer is accepted, I would like to enquire, as the building there where I would like the portrait to be hung is not finished, whether it would be convenient meanwhile to house it in the League of Nations Library presented by Mr. John D. Rockefeller Jr…

      With many thanks in anticipation, believe me,

                            Yours very truly,

                                                Duveen.’

The memorandum from Muller-Ury which Duveen enclosed, dated by him February 1935, when perhaps the idea was first discussed by the two friends, reads as follows:

‘The Portrait I painted of President Woodrow Wilson, was ordered for the White House, but later Colonel House requested me not to deliver same, but to keep the portrait, as the real place for such portrait, should be the League of Nations in Geneva, of wich President Wilson was the Founder.

‘I was present and just in front of the speakers desk in April 1917 when President Wilson opened Congress. Colonel House thought I should see personaly everything and then judge what to paint.

‘From 1917 to 1919 I painted at different times in the Blue Room of the White House on the portrait, but unfortunately always has short sittings.

‘I brought from my New York studio, seven or 8 times the portrait to Washington, just when Colonel Edward House thought I would get another sitting.

‘The White House sent a van to my studio for the portrait and had a van at the train in Washington to bring immediately the painting to the White House. Chief usher Hoover managed all arrangement to perfection!

‘It was realy (sic) to please my friend Colonel House and for his great confidence in my work, that I so patiently kept on painting under such difficulties.

                                 A. Muller-Ury.’

The letter which Duveen enclosed from Colonel House had been stuck by Muller-Ury in his scrapbooks (the letter bears traces of glue on the back) was written from 115 East 53rd Street, New York and dated March 7, 1920:

‘Dear Mr. Muller Ury:

I was very pleased when I visited your studio the other day to find that you had made such a forceful portrait of the President.

The fact that you chose the moment when he was delivering to the Congress his address asking for a declaration of war upon Germany makes the portrait one of great historic interest. It was a happy accident that you were of the audience at that time, otherwise it would have been impossible to have visualized the President at that tragic moment.

I hope you will not hastily dispose of this picture for as we get further away from the war, its value will be better realized.

           Sincerely yours, E. M. House.’

The picture, shipped by Duveen’s gallery in New York by S.S. Pennland on June 20, 1935, via Antwerp, Belgium, appears to have arrived in Geneva in late July or early August. However, Muller-Ury wrote from New York to the Secretary-General on June 14, 1935 the following letter:

‘Dear Sir,

My friend Lord Duveen requested me to state that the occasion in the career of President Wilson, wich (sic) the portrait represents, is not recorded yet neither on the portrait, or on the frame. A tablet on the frame was intended to be placed on the bottom of the frame, but the portrait has left for Geneva before that could be done. If my wish should be accepted would be, to just place a little tablet –

       = President Woodrow Wilson opening Congress in 1917 =            on the bottom of the frame.

Colonel House is delighted, that this favorite portrait of his friend has at last gone to the proper place, where he thought it belonged.

           I have the honor to be,

                                Yours truly, A. Muller-Ury.’

The Secretary General’s reply to Duveen, who was staying at Claridge’s in London at the time (copy of the letter in photographic form amongst the artist’s papers) dated May 15, 1935 is below:

‘My Lord,

I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of April 23rd, by which you were good enough to inform me of your desire to present to the League of Nations a portrait of the late President Woodrow Wilson, painted by Mr. A. Muller Ury.

In expressing appreciation of your generous offer, I have the honour to inform you that the acceptance of gifts lies with the Council of the League of Nations, to which, at the session which begins on May 20th, your intention will be made known. I shall not fail to communicate to you the Council’s decision.

If the offer is accepted by the Council I see no difficulty, subject to such general arrangements as may be made, in hanging the portrait of President Wilson in the new League of Nations Library when it is completed. I presume that the occasion in the career of President Wilson which the portrait represents is not recorded on the portrait itself or on the frame.

              I have the honour to be,

                       Your Lordship’s obedient Servant,

J.K. Avenol, Secretary-General.’                                                                                                                         

The gift to the League was accepted by the Council under Communication C.206.1935.X. along with £1.00 sterling offered by a Mr. R.R.D. Milligan of New Zealand whose gift was used to buy books for the Library. The Secretary-General then wrote again to Duveen on May 28, 1935 (copy of the letter in photographic form amongst the artist’s papers):

‘My Lord,

In continuation of my letter dated May 15th I have much pleasure in informing you that I am now authorised by the Council of the League of Nations to accept, on its behalf, the offer of a portrait of President Wilson made in your letter of April 23rd. I therefore beg formally to convey to you the Council’s appreciation of your generosity, with which I venture fully to associate myself.

The portrait will be hung in a suitable place in the new League buildings.

                I have the honour to be,

                         Your Lordship’s obedient Servant,

                                        J. K. Avenol, Secretary-General.’

Duveen must have ordered the picture to be shipped almost immediately for the Bill of Lading from Duveen Brothers is dated June 20, 1935; it indicates that the picture was valued at $1,000.00 and the frame at $25.00, which was surely an underestimate, even if with currency devaluations, though it may reflect what Duveen might have paid Muller-Ury, if indeed he did? On July 31st, Duveen’s invoiced Muller-Ury for disbursement made in June 1935 “To freight on picture to Geneva $91.25” – and this is evidently the portrait of Woodrow Wilson that Duveen was allegedly presenting to the League of Nations.

As a matter of courtesy the League informed Mrs. Woodrow Wilson just after June 7, 1935, of Lord Duveen’s offer. Her reply surprised the panjandrums at the Palais de Nations, which went as follows:

‘…I did not know Mr. Muller-Ury had painted a portrait of Mr. Wilson. He did one of me in 1916, but he had no sittings from Mr. Wilson; and while it is kind of Lord Duveen to offer to present it to the League, I hope before it is accepted an opportunity will be sought by some capable person to judge the work; for to my mind no portrait is better than a bad one. Will you be good enough to suggest to the above committee for me, and if possible let me see a photograph of the portrait before a decision is made?..’

But, as has been seen, the picture had already been accepted on May 18, 1935. Possibly Mrs Wilson wrote to the artist for information for he sent her copies of the two letters written from the Secretary-General of the League of Nations quoted above with a brief note on June 14, 1935 (a copy of this was amongst the papers of Nadea Dragonette Loftus which were not sent to the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center at Laramie by Nicholas M. Turner; the present whereabouts of the original is unknown). She replied on June 28 (according to a typed annotation on the copy of the letter) and the artist then wrote the letter below on July 1, 1935 (same source: the present whereabouts of the original is unknown):

‘My dear Mrs Wilson

I am very gratefull for your gracious letter, and in answer to the different informations you desire, I will be very glad to write few lines.

The portrait I painted was started at the request of the President & Col House, and it was supposed to be placed later on at the White house.

In 1917 when President Wilson delivered the Declaration of War, Col. House thought it would be a wonderfull occasion for me to be there, and he reserved for myself a seat just in front of the speakers desk. After that, I could not help to just paint the Great President that way and so the portrait slowly developed. I had different very short sittings at the White House in the blue room wich were arranged by the chief usher Hoover and Col. House. The(y) always sent at my studio in N.Y. for the portrait with the Van of The Treasurer office & then brought the portrait to an engaged drawing room in the Pensilvania Congressional Train. In Washington the Van was at the train for the portrait and brought same to the Blue Room at the White House where with great difficulty some short sittings followed – at different occasion.

I never in my life had so much work, trouble, and inconveniences with any portrait, but just to please my great friend Col. House and for his great desire to get good portrait I worked patiently at the portrait, specialy (sic) in New York, using many good photographs I took myself. After years of work the portrait was finished and Col. House thought that the place for the portrait should be the League of Nation. I had occasion to sell the portrait but I waited until the Palace in Geneva was finished.

I consider this portrait my greatest portrait I ever did, of anybody; and as good a characteristic likeness as I ever could do. Everybody that Col. House brought to see this work, agreed with him about the merit and I am very pleased with the results myself.

Some day, maybe verbaly, (sic) I will tell you more of the history of the portrait.

Please excuse the scrible (sic) of mine and sending my kindest regards I remain

                  Yours most sincerely, Adolfo Muller-Ury.’

As it is known House was not keen for the portrait to go to the League of Nations, the artist has bent the truth in all his correspondence at this time to suit its donation to Geneva. An internal memorandum at the Palais des Nations dated July 8, 1935 made some effort to say that the reason for Mrs. Wilson’s ignorance of this picture was evidently, as stated in his memorandum, namely “…the conditions which the artist himself gives of the way in which the portrait was painted and also by the somewhat complicated situation which existed in Washington in 1917-19.”  The artist wrote to Colonel House from his New York studio on June 14, 1935 to inform him that the picture had gone to Geneva (Yale University Library, E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808):

‘Hon Colonel Edward M. House

Dear Mr. House

I forward to you a copy of the 2 letters received from the League of Nations regarding the portrait of President W. Wilsons portrait.

After Mr Rockefeller’s refusal to donate the portrait, my friend Lord Duveen decided that he would gladly do so himself and now everything is arranged as you always desired.

Shall I send a copy to Mrs. Woodrow Wilson?

I hope you & Mrs. House will have a wonderfull rest and an ideal good time in the country this summer, and sending my kindest regards I remain

              Yours sincerely, A. Muller-Ury.’

House’s final letter (Yale University Library, E.M. House papers, MS466, Box 82A, Folder 2808) written from Manchester, Massachusetts on June 16, 1935 accepts gracefully that the artist has placed the portrait in Geneva:

‘Dear Mr. Muller-Ury:

It is pleasant to hear through your letter of June 14th that your portrait of President Wilson has been accepted by the League of Nations, and that it will hang in the Library there.

No one is happier than I both on his account and yours.

If you will send a copy to Miss Margaret Wilson, Hotel Seymour, 50 West 45th Street, New York, she will deeply appreciate it.

         With every good wish,

                      Sincerely yours, [E. M. House].’

There is one mystery concerning this picture of Wilson by Muller-Ury.  He delivered it to Duveen’s in New York for shipment to Switzerland in 1935 as a picture called ‘President Wilson opening Congress, 1917’.  It was, of course, actually the picture called ‘Woodrow Wilson delivering his “war speech” before Congress, April 3rd 1917’ as exhibited at KNOEDLER’S.  Colonel House specifically stated that he did not want the picture of the Declaration of War to be sent to the League of Nations, but Muller-Ury simply changed the title for the picture.  But did he actually paint more than one version of the picture — as is suggested from his entry in Who’s Who — or were they simply the same?  Of course, he gave the “sketch” to Mrs. Cordell Hull for the Birthplace Foundation in 1943, and this canvas went to Geneva in 1935, but a third picture is recorded in his studio sale in 1947.

This photograph was taken by Mary Hopson. But another photograph, which appears to depict slight changes in the work, was stamped by Edward Heim, who had a studio at 67, West 67th Street in New York, just along the street from Muller-Ury’s studio at No. 33.


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