DAVIS, Varina Anne ‘Winnie’

Bust-length profile, facing left. Oil on canvas, 20.1/6” x 16.1/16” (51.1 x 40.9 cms), signed lower left ‘A. Muller-Ury’.

The Museum of the Confederacy, 1201 East Clay Street, Richmond, Virginia 23219.

Gift of the artist, 1918.

The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Summer 2010 (reproduced in colour p.3)

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Miss Varina Anne (‘Winnie’) Jefferson Davis was born in 1864 and died in 1898.

Painted in 1897-98. The following letter from the Confederate Museum, dated June 29, 1918, in the artist’s papers, attests to the gift:

‘My dear Mr. Muller-Ury —

In the name of this Society I write to thank you for the beautiful portrait of Miss Winnie Davis which was kindly brought by Mrs. Fred W. Scott — it is a wonderful likeness and the workmanship exquisite –

I feel that you made a real sacrifice to part with it but I assure you it is where it will be most appreciated and enjoyed by people from all over the World —

The only portrait we have of Mrs. Davis is one done by Jennie Deloney Rice who is now Mrs. Myrowitz. Can you remember who you gave it to?

              Thanking you again

                        Very truly yours

             Susan B. Harrison, House Regent.’

The correspondence file – Mississippi State Room collection “D” – at the Museum of the Confederacy, has Muller-Ury’s reply dated July 1, 1918:

‘My dear Miss Harrison

I am pleased to know that my portrait of that sweet & wonderfull (sic) charackter (sic) will be in future just where she dreamed & desired to be. – The portrait was painted a year before she died here in my N.Y. studio – where I painted 2 years before the portrait of Mrs. J. Davis wich she gave to her daughter Mrs. Hayes at that time at Colorado Springs. – Somebody told me a little while ago, that after Mrs. Hayes death, the family gave the portrait (wich is one of my best) to the Southern Museum – & if not so, I am sory (sic) indeed as it ought to be there. — I was very fond especialy (sic) of Miss Winnie Davis, although nobody could help admiring the intelligence, grace & personality of Mrs. J. Davis.  I started another portrait of Mrs Davis but I never finished – & dont (sic) know at present where it is. —- I hope some day soon I will have the pleasure of visiting the Confederate Memorial Museum & then have the pleasure to meeting you too. ——–

              My best wishes I send to the Richmond literary Society —

                                      Yours sincerely, Adolfo Muller-Ury.’

The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine (Summer 2010) points out that the picture is based upon a formal carte-de-visite photograph taken of Winnie Davis by Davis and Sanford at their New York studio (reproduced p. 18).

The sitter died on September 18, 1898 aged thirty-three.  Muller-Ury despatched a telegram from London on hearing of her death (Museum of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis Family Collection Inventory, Box 33A):

The Western Union Telegraph Company

Received at: Weather Bureau, Narragansett Pier, R.I.   Sept. 21, 1898

Dated: London via New York

To: Mrs. Jefferson Davis

“Most heartfelt sympathy.

                        Muller Ury”

Ishbel Ross, in her biography First Lady of the South: The Life of Mrs. Jefferson Davis (New York, 1958) quotes Muller-Ury’s opinion of Winnie that she had a “sweet and wonderful character” (p.393).