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Period Oil Portrait of William H. Seward Wonderfully Executed
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[WILLIAM H. SEWARD]. Oil Bust Portrait of Secretary of State William H. Seward, ca. 1864. Oil on board, 11 x 14 in. oval; framed to 17 x 20 in.

Inventory #25611       SOLD — please inquire about other items

This striking portrait of the Civil War Secretary of State for the United States is unsigned, but a later pencil notation on the verso of the painting reads “C. P. Healey.” This note suggests that it is the work of the renowned portrait painter George Peter Alexander Healy. Healy is known to have painted a portrait of Seward,[1] and no other extant Healy portrait of Seward is known.

The profile pose is very similar to the 1860s photograph of Seward by Mathew Brady in Washington, D.C.

George Peter Alexander Healy (1813-1894) was born in Boston and began drawing at age sixteen and painting portraits at age eighteen. He studied in Europe from 1834 to 1850, with occasional trips to the United States. He returned to the United States and settled in Chicago until 1869, when he again went to Europe for twenty-one years. In 1892, he returned to Chicago, where he died two years later. Among his portraits were those of Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Pope Pius IX, William T. Sherman, and all presidents from John Quincy Adams to Ulysses S. Grant. In a period of twenty years, he executed nearly six hundred portraits. In one large 1851 historical work, Webster’s Reply to Hayne, Healy included 130 portraits. He was one of the most prolific and popular painters of the mid-nineteenth century.

William H. Seward (1801-1872) was born in New York and educated as a lawyer. He opened a practice in Auburn, New York, and was elected to the New York Senate in 1830 as an Anti-Mason. In 1834, he was an unsuccessful Whig Party candidate for governor, but he won in 1838 and was re-elected in 1840. Elected to the U.S. Senate as a Whig in 1849 by the legislature, Seward won re-election in 1855 and soon joined the Republican Party. By 1860, he was considered the leading presidential candidate for the Republican Party, but opposition from other parts of the Republican coalition gave the nomination to Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. After Lincoln won the 1860 election, he asked Seward to serve as his Secretary of State. Although he tried to preserve peace and prevent the southern states from seceding, Seward devoted himself to the Union cause and helped keep the United Kingdom and France from intervening in the Civil War or recognizing the Confederacy. In April 1865, a co-conspirator to John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Lincoln nearly killed Seward in his bed, recovering from a carriage accident. After recovering, Seward resumed his post as Secretary of State to President Andrew Johnson. He negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867 and supported Johnson during his impeachment trial. He left office at the end of Johnson’s term in March 1869.


A few paint splatters and later notations on verso. In its original gold gesso frame. Restored in 2010 by Eli Wilner.


Purchased at a Tepper Galleries auction in the 1970s. Harold Holzer Collection.

[1] America’s Greatest Men and Women. Photographs and Biographies of the Most Famous Living People on the Continent (St. Louis: C. O. Tice & Co., 1894), 160.