Chelsea Restoration has in its inventory a masterpiece of tonalist portraiture by renowned American artist Kenyon Cox. The formal austerity of the composition, subtle palette, and masterful handling of the paint surface are all very closely related to Cox’s best known portraits of men, his portrait of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and that of Maxfield Parrish in the National Academy of Design. They all share a figure described with a strong outline, a masculine palette of rich, warm browns and greens and a psychological insight into the sitter’s character as being largely defined by his work. In the case of Saint-Gaudens and Parrish, it is the work of being a visual artist, and in the case of the subject of this portrait, the work of being a physician.
Dr. William J. Morton was the son of Dr. William T. G. Morton, an important pioneer in the use of ether as an anesthetic. Harvard educated, he was to go on to be a professor of nervous diseases in New York. The sitter’s relaxed pose, casually smoking his cigar, does not cause him to lose any of his self –possession or slight aura of gilded age hauteur.
Kenyon Cox was born in Warren, Ohio in 1856. He attended the Pennsylvania Academy before embarking for Paris in 1877 where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. He received instruction with the leading French painters of the day including Carolus-Duran, Alexandre Cabanel and Jean-Leon Gerome. After his return to the US, he painted murals for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and went on to have a distinguished career as a muralist. He was elected an Academician of the National Academy of Design in 1903. He was a prolific writer and critic and a great proponent for the preservation of the classical tradition in art. He died in 1919.