HOSTETTER, David Herbert

Three-quarter length, seated, a landscape to the left, receding dark thinning hair, moustache, in a double-breasted suit, his hands one above the other, clutching a pair of gloves, resting on top of a cane. Oil on canvas, 43.1/2″ x 33.1/2″, signed lower left ‘A. Muller Ury’.

Private Collection, California, USA.

Miniature by Pereria formerly in the possession of Keith Rogers (1941-2009), Beverly Hills, California, 2001.

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The sitter was born in Allegheny, PA, on August 31, 1859, and married Miriam Gerdes Crawford in 1887.  They had four children: David Herbert Hostetter Jr. (born 1889, married Margaret Brown); Frederick Gerdes Hostetter (1892-1931) (he was reported in the New York Times 24 May 1914 as becoming engaged to Catherine Gunn of 830 Seventh Avenue, New York); Miriam Virginia Hostetter (1900-1968, later Mrs. M. K. Smith, Mrs. Charles Fuller Young, and Mrs. William Zehner Breed); and Helen Hostetter. 

He was a bitters manufacturer, railroad builder, oil and gas pioneer, and banker. He began coming to Southern California for the benefit of his health, staying first at the St. Elmo Hotel in Los Angeles, and later at the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, before building his own home in Pasadena. Years earlier (around 1870), the Hostetter & Smith company had accepted a large piece of worthless waste land in what is now known as Boyle Heights as payment on a bad bitters debt of $1,000. That piece of land, known from then on as the “Hostetter Tract,” was to prove to be a good investment.  While Hostetter was on a trip to Los Angeles in 1888, he sold half of that tract for $900,000. He remained active, industrious and prosperous, but the stress of running a business empire eventually began to take its toll. He closed down his Pittsburgh mansion in November 1923, and removed to his Pasadena house to recuperate. But he died in Pasadena September 28, 1924, presumably at 463 South Orange Grove Avenue, his winter address, so the picture must have been executed from a photograph in 1926.

The following letter dated June 26, 1926, in the artist’s papers, written from 1136, Fifth Avenue, New York, in the artist’s papers is relevant:

‘My dear Mr. Ury

I tried to tell you last week how wonderful I think the portrait of my husband is but really found no adequate words. Were I to write many pages I could not begin to express the joy the satisfaction and the comfort it means to me but I feel you will understand. Every day I love it more and every one who has seen it is enthusiastic and marvels you could have painted so fine a likeness from photographs and memory. With all good wishes and hoping to see you in sunny California next winter. I am

          Very sincerely yours, Miriam G. Hostetter.’

A fragment of another letter is stuck to this, which reads ‘…I love it more every day. Several men who are acquainted with your work have said it is the finest portrait you have done that they have seen…’