FRENCH, Margaret (Later Mrs Cresson)

The Brooklyn Eagle, April 6, 1913 describes this portrait as follows: ‘One of the most attractive canvases is one of the simplest in device…The scheme is one of brown and white, with greenish-gray background.’ Signed upper right ‘Muller-Ury’.

Present Whereabouts Unknown.

At Chesterwood until 1970.
Given away by the sitter to Prentiss and Helen Douglass French.

M. KNOEDLER & CO., 355, Fifth Avenue, New York, March 31 – April 12, 1913, No. 7.

New York Herald, April 2, 1913
American Art News, April 5, 1913
Brooklyn Eagle, April 6, 1913
New Yorker Staats Zeitung, April 6, 1913

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Miss Margaret French (1889-1973) (later Mrs. William Penn Cresson) was the daughter, and only child, of the eminent sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850 – 1931) and his wife Mary, whom he married in 1888. His most famous work is the Statue of Abraham Lincoln in Washington D.C. (1920) but he also executed the Bronze Doors of the Boston Public Library and the four bronze groups of the Continents before the New York Custom House. Margaret French Cresson was painted by many portraitists and many of these are found today at Chesterwood, the French home and studio museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. She was herself an accomplished sculptor and examples of her work are displayed beside her father’s at the museum.

The sitter recorded the sittings for the portrait with Muller-Ury in her engagement diary for 1912 for the mornings of Friday, December 13; Tuesday, December 17; Wednesday, December 18; Thursday, December 19; Thursday, December 26; and, Tuesday, December 31. The picture was last recorded in 1970.

I am grateful to Mrs. Percie J. Roberts of the National Trust at ‘Chesterwood’ for this information.

Two letters, both written from 125, West 11th Street, New York, in the artist’s papers, indicate that the artist gave the portrait of Margaret French to the family late in 1914. That from Daniel Chester French is dated January 3, 1915:

‘Dear Mr. Muller-Ury

If you do not consider me the most unappreciative and the most ungrateful of mortals, it must be because you do not consider me at all! Yet, I am neither one nor the other, but only the victim of circumstances which have kept me from writing to you before.  This is a prelude to asking your pardon for my tardy acknowledgement of the wonderful present you have made to Mrs. French and Margaret and me and to thanking you most sincerely for it.

The picture seems to me even better as a likeness of Margaret than I remembered it and I shall value it always as a record of her in the days of her youth, but also as being so representative an example of your work. I really feel as if it were too much for you to do for us to make us a present of so important a picture, but I accept it with gratitude and with the hope that you at least had some pleasure in the painting of it.

I beg that you will accept from Mrs. French and me our grateful appreciation of your splendid gift. Margaret will write you of her own pleasure in it.

Believe me, dear Mr. Muller Ury, with much regard and all good wishes for the New Year

                 Most truly yours, Daniel C. French.

           P.S. I enclose a check for the frame.’

But, when Margaret wrote there was a caveat included amongst her praise of the portrait:

‘Dear Mr. Muller-Ury,

The picture is so lovely and we are all charmed with it; really, nothing has ever been done of me that my friends admire so much, or that is considered to be so good a likeness. I think it is wonderful of you to give it to us, and I can’t begin to thank you enough. Knowing how much work it entailed I can appreciate it accordingly, and you don’t know how grateful I am to you for making us a present of it. I wonder, though, if you would mind very much if we wanted to change the frame? It doesn’t seem to go with the room in which we wanted to place the portrait in our country house, and if it would not inconvenience you in any way, we would like to choose another one. I do hope you don’t mind my suggesting this, but we feel that the elaborateness of the frame detracts from the painting, and that it would be handsomer with a more simple moulding. Could you let us know if we are able to change it? Thanking you so much again, believe me,

          Sincerely, Margaret French.’

Regrettably, the picture is not now at Chesterwood, but Dana Pilson, a curatorial researcher at Chesterwood brilliantly discovered in 2015 that in the summer of 1970 Margaret French Cresson gave her cousins Prentiss and Helen Douglass French (Prentiss was the son of Daniel Chester French’s brother, William Merchant Richardson French) a number of furnishings from the house, including: ‘Large oil portrait of Margaret French (Cresson) by Adolph Muller-Ury. Painted about 1910, gift of the painter.’