George Peter Alexander Healy
An American portrait and historical painter, b. at Boston, July 15, 1808; d. at Chicago, June 14, 1894
Healy, GEORGE PETER ALEXANDER, an American portrait and historical painter, b. at Boston, July 15, 1808; d. at Chicago, June 14, 1894. His father was an Irish captain in the merchant marine, and “the Celtic strain ran bright and lovable through the temperament of the son” (Isham). The eldest of five children, Healy, early left fatherless, helped to support his mother. When sixteen years of age he began drawing, and at once was fired with the ambition to be an artist. Miss Stuart, daughter of the American painter, aided him in every way, loaned him a Guido’s “Ecce Homo”, which he copied in color and sold to a country priest. Later, she introduced him to Sully, by whose advice Healy profited much, and gratefully repaid Sully in the days of the latter’s adversity. At eighteen, Healy began painting portraits, and was soon very successful. In 1834, he went to Europe, leaving his mother well provided for, and remained abroad sixteen years, during which he studied with Baron Gros, came under the pervading influence of Couture, painted assiduously, and won (1840) a third class medal in the Salon. His “Franklin urging the Claims of the Colonists before Louis XVI” gained him a second-class gold medal at the Paris International Exhibition of 1855. This year, also, saw him in Chicago, where he remained until 1869, when he again visited the Continent, painting steadily, chiefly in Rome and Paris, for twenty-one years. His final return to Chicago was in 1892. Healy painted more portraits than any other American artist, and of more eminent men than any other artist in the world. Among his sitters were Pius IX (1871), Lincoln, Grant (1878), Cardinal McCloskey, Louis Philippe (“his royal patron”), Marshal Soult, Webster, Calhoun, Hawthorne, Prescott, Longfellow, Liszt, Gambetta, Thiers, Lord Lyons, and the Princess (now the queen) of Rumania. In one large historical work, “Webster’s Reply to Hayne” (1851), now in Faneuil Hall, Boston, there are one hundred and thirty portraits. Healy was remarkably facile, enterprising, courageous, and industrious. “All my days are spent in my painting room” (Reminiscences). His style, essentially French, was sound, his color fine, his drawing correct and his management of light and shade excellent. His likenesses, firm in outline, solidly painted, and with later glazings, are emphatic, rugged, and forceful. Healy was an honorary member of the National Academy of Design and wrote a delightful book: “Reminiscences of a Portrait Painter”.
Among his principal works are: Lincoln (Corcoran Gallery), Bishop (later Cardinal) McCloskey (bishop’s residence, Albany), Guizot (1841, in Smithsonian Institution), Audubon (1838, Boston Soc. Nat. Hist.), Comte de Paris (Met. Mus. of Art, New York).