Theodore Clement Steele, American, 1847–1926
Oil on canvas
100.96 cm x 125.73 cm | 39 3/4 in x 49 1/2 in
Framed: 129.54 cm x 154.94 cm x 15.24 cm | 51 in x 61 in x 6 in
Signed and dated lower right, T.C. Steele / 1901
Secured for the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site from the trustee of the Wanamaker estate in 1938.
Conservation completed by Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2008.
Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site Accession #211
Courtesy of Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site
This portrait of President Benjamin Harrison hangs in the parlor of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. The Italianate style home is located at 1230 N. Delaware Street in Indianapolis, Indiana and is a National Historic Landmark.
T.C. Steele painted President Benjamin Harrison after Harrison returned to Indianapolis from the White House. Harrison, a devoutly religious man, is sitting at a table reading the Bible. There were four of these portraits made by T.C. Steele. It is believed this portrait in the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site was painted for John Wanamaker, the 35th U.S. Postmaster General who served under President Harrison. Wanamaker originally ordered it for the Union Club in New York City.
- A second identical portrait of the four painted resides in the University Club in Indianapolis.
- A third identical portrait of the four painted resides in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. This is the one originally owned by the Harrison family.
- A fourth identical portrait of the four painted belongs to the U.S. Army.
Benjamin Harrison (1833 – 1901) was an American politician and lawyer who serve as the 23rd president of the United States from 1889 to 1893. He was also the grandson of William Henry Harrison, who served as the ninth president of the United States. These two presidents represent the only grandfather and grandson to have held the nation’s highest office. He signed into law the Sherman Antitrust Act, the first piece of legislation designed to prohibit industrial combinations or trusts. Harrison was the last Civil War general to serve as president of the United States. Historical writings view him as a highly principled man.
Harrison was born on August 20, 1833 in North Bend, Ohio, and grew up on a farm located near the Ohio River below Cincinnati. Harrison graduated from Miami University of Ohio, in 1852, and after studying law in Cincinnati, Harrison moved to Indianapolis, in 1854 to set his own law practice.
He married Caroline “Carrie” Lavinia Scott (1832 – 1892) on October 20, 1853. She was raised in Oxford, Ohio where he father John Witherspoon Scott, was a professor of science and mathematics at Miami University. She graduated from Oxford Female Institute. As first lady she was active in philanthropy and served as first President General of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution from 1890 until her death in 1892. She was also active in Indianapolis Orphans Asylum for over 30 years and served on their board of managers. She was also an advocate of the arts and worked to expand women’s influence outside of the homes. She died at 60 years of age.
From 1881 – 1887, Harrison represented Indiana in the U.S. Senate, arguing for the rights of homesteaders and Native Americans against the expanding railroad industry. He also campaigned for generous pensions for Civil War veterans.
After leaving the White House, Harrison returned to Indianapolis and his law practice. After spending almost a decade as a respected elder statesman and acclaimed speaker, he died in 1901 of pneumonia in his home in Indianapolis. He was 67 years of age.
President Harrison and his wife Caroline are buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana, section 13, lot 57.
We encourage you to visit the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Home, which is remarkably conserved with period appointments, artifacts and collections.
While there, you can take a very short walk up the street and also visit the site where there is an Indiana State Historical Marker identifying Steele’s Tinker Place studio where he most likely painted all four portraits of the president.