DEPEW, Senator Chauncey M. (1889)

Head and shoulders, oil on board 16.3/4” x 11” (42.5 x 27.9 cm), signed lower right ‘A. Muller-Ury’.

Private Collection, London, UK.

Weschler’s, 909 E Street, Washington DC 20004, U.S.A., Sale, December 1, 2007, Lot 644, as ‘Portrait of a Gentleman’. Bought for $125 by present owner.

Cleaned by Cressida Ross in 2016.

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The sitter was a United States Senator, President and Board Chairman of the New York Central Railroad, and notable Public Speaker. Son of Isaac Depew (d. 1869), shipowner and merchant, and Martha Mitchell Depew (d. 1872). Graduated Yale University in 1856, he was admitted to the bar in 1858. Served in the New York state legislature and elected New York’s secretary of state in 1863. Depew joined the New York Central Railroad in 1866 at the invitation of ‘Commodore’ Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), advancing to the presidency in 1885. In 1899, at the age of sixty-five, he embarked on a twelve-year tenure in the United States Senate, but, until the end of his life, remained Chairman of the Board of the New York Central. In 1871 Depew married Elsie A. Hegeman (died 1893), with whom he had one son, Chauncey M. Depew, Jr. (1872-1931). He married secondly May Palmer (d. 1940) in 1901; they had no children. A leading business and political figure Depew was considered the most distinguished public speaker in America; in 1886 he delivered the principal address at the dedication of the Statue of Liberty; six years later he was chosen to speak at the laying of the cornerstone of Grant’s Tomb; and, in 1892 he presented the dedicatory oration at the Chicago World’s Fair. At the age of ninety-one, in 1925, his annual birthday speech was broadcast on the radio. He was known of “the most recognized living American, with the exception of the President of the United States.” Depew died in St. Augustine, Florida, aged 94 on April 5, 1928 of bronchial pneumonia. He had signed his will on January 26, 1928, prior to his departure.

Bibliography of sitter:

William A. Eardley, Chronology and Ancestry of Chauncey M. Depew with Fifty-four affiliated families of New York, New Jersey and New England, Privately Printed, New York, 1918

Chauncey M. Depew, My Memories of Eighty Years, New York, 1924.

The Sherwood studio showing the small portrait of Depew in the centre of the photograph.

The portrait is visible, but with a light background, in the centre of Muller-Ury’s Sherwood studio in photographs taken in 1894. At some point the background has been painted black as the date 1889 is still visible under the black paint in the top right hand corner.  It was almost certainly the artist’s first sketch of Depew, from which he made the portrait at the Yale Club of New York City.