George Peter Alexander Healy

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George Peter Alexander Healy
A photograph of Healy
by Southworth & Hawes
Born(1813-07-15)July 15, 1813
DiedJune 24, 1894(1894-06-24) (aged 80)
Known forPainting
Notable workThe Peacemakers
Abraham Lincoln

George Peter Alexander Healy (July 15, 1813 – June 24, 1894) was an American portrait painter. He was one of the most prolific and popular painters of his day, and his sitters included many of the eminent personages of his time. Born in Boston, he studied in Europe, and over his lifetime had studios in Paris and Chicago.


George Peter Alexander Healy in his Paris studio, c. 1884–1894, albumen print by Edmond Bénard, Department of Image Collections, National Gallery of Art Library, Washington, DC

Healy was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the eldest of five children of an Irish captain in the merchant marine.

Having been left fatherless at a young age, Healy helped to support his mother. At sixteen years of age he began drawing, and at developed an ambition to be an artist. Jane Stuart, daughter of Gilbert Stuart, aided him, loaning him a Guido's "Ecce Homo", which he copied in color and sold to a country priest. Later, she introduced him to Thomas Sully, by whose advice Healy profited, and gratefully repaid Sully in the days of the latter's adversity.

At eighteen, Healy began painting portraits, and was soon very successful. In 1834, he went to Europe, leaving his mother well provided for, and remained abroad sixteen years during which he studied with Antoine-Jean Gros in Paris and in Rome, came under the influence of Thomas Couture, and painted assiduously.[1] He received a third-class medal in the Paris Salon of 1840. In 1843 he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Honorary Academician. He won a second-class medal in Paris in 1855, when he exhibited his Franklin Urging the Claims of the American Colonies Before Louis XVI.[2]

Healy's grave at Calvary Cemetery, Evanston, Illinois

In 1855 he returned to the United States, establishing his home and studio in Chicago, Illinois, where he remained based for the next 14 years until 1869. In 1857, he purchased a cottage in Cottage Hill, Illinois (today's Elmhurst) from Thomas Barbour Bryan, adjacent to Bryan's own Byrd's Nest estate. Healy would live in this cottage for the next six years.[3][4] Bryan would be a significant patron of Healy's art.[3] Healy also partnered with Bryan, as well as William Butler Ogden, Sidney Sawyer, and Edwin H Sheldon, in founding Graceland Cemetery.[5] During the time his studio was based in Chicago, he also traveled in the United States to complete commissions.

Healy went back to Europe in 1869, painting steadily, chiefly in Rome and Paris, for twenty-one years. In 1892, he returned to live near family in Chicago, where he died on June 24, 1894.[2] He was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Evanston.

Healy's autobiography, Reminiscences of a Portrait Painter, was published in 1894.[1]


Portrait of the Artist (1851)
The Young Abe Lincoln
by Healy

Healy was one of the most prolific and popular painters of his day.[2] He was remarkably facile, enterprising, courageous, and industrious. "All my days are spent in my painting room" (Reminiscences). His style, essentially French, was sound, his color fine, his drawing correct and his management of light and shade excellent. His likenesses, firm in outline, solidly painted, and with later glazings, are emphatic, rugged, and forceful.

Among his portraits of eminent persons are those of Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John Calhoun, Pope Pius IX, Arnold Henry Guyot, William H. Seward, Louis Philippe, Marshal Soult, Hawthorne, Prescott, Longfellow, Liszt, Gambetta, Thiers, Lord Lyons, Sallie Ward and the Princess (later the queen) of Romania. He painted portraits of all the presidents of the United States from John Quincy Adams to Ulysses Grant—this series being painted for the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.[2][1] Healy also painted The Peacemakers in 1868 and Abraham Lincoln in 1869. In one large historical work, Webster's Reply to Hayne (1851; in Faneuil Hall, Boston), there are one hundred and thirty portraits.

His principal works include portraits of Lincoln (Corcoran Gallery), Bishop (later Cardinal) McClosky (bishop's residence, Albany), Guizot (1841, in Smithsonian Institution), Audubon (1838, Boston Soc. Nat. Hist.), Comte de Paris (Met. Mus. Of Art, New York), Isaac Thomas Hecker C.S.P., Founder of the Paulist Fathers (North American Paulist Center, Washington, D.C.)

The Newberry Library in Chicago holds 41 of Healy's paintings, donated by the artist in 1887. Most of the works can be found on display throughout the building. The Newberry also holds some letters by Healy, as well as information about the paintings.[6]

Healy's 1877 portrait of a young Lincoln was the model used for a Lincoln postage stamp, issued on February 12, 1959, the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's birth.



  1. ^ a b c Hunt 1913.
  2. ^ a b c d Chisholm 1911.
  3. ^ a b "George Peter Alexander Healy (1813–1894)". Illinois Historical Art Project. Retrieved May 10, 2020.
  4. ^ "Elmhurst". DuPage County Historical Society. September 23, 2019. Archived from the original on August 14, 2020. Retrieved May 10, 2020.
  5. ^ Funigiello, Philip J. (1994). Florence Lathrop Page: A Biography. University of Virginia Press. pp. 17–18. ISBN 978-0-8139-1489-3. Retrieved May 12, 2021.
  6. ^ "Visual Art | Newberry". Archived from the original on December 26, 2018. Retrieved December 26, 2018.


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