In March 1893 Senator John Morgan was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison to a commission representing American interests before the Bering Sea Tribunal, then meeting in Paris. While there, Morgan renewed a former acquaintance with artist Carl Gutherz. Gutherz was eager to paint a portrait of Senator Morgan, who resisted giving up the time for sittings. Eventually, Morgan agreed to six sittings, saying that he “would waste no more valuable time on it.”
Gutherz completed the portrait that May. The painting hung in Senator Morgan’s Washington, D.C., residence, and it remained in the family’s possession until offered to the Senate by the senator’s daughter, Cornelia Morgan. Seeking an appropriate home for the portrait in 1910, she offered to either sell or donate it to the Senate. The Joint Committee on the Library requested a memorandum from her regarding the circumstances and conditions under which the portrait was painted. Shortly thereafter, the Senate introduced a resolution authorizing the Joint Committee to purchase the painting for $1,000 from the contingent fund of the Senate. No action was taken at that time regarding the acquisition, however, and despite another Senate resolution two years later, the issue was never settled. By then the portrait was on display in the meeting room of the Joint Committee on the Library. Decades later, with the establishment of the Senate Commission on Art, the Senate eventually assumed stewardship of the painting.
Gutherz was born in Schoftland, Switzerland, in 1844 and at the age of seven immigrated with his parents to the United States. The family settled first in Cincinnati, Ohio, and later in Memphis, Tennessee. As a young man, Gutherz traveled to Europe for instruction in art, studying at the Académie des Béaux-Arts in Paris, and later in Belgium and Rome. In 1872 he returned to the United States and eventually settled in St. Louis, where he taught in the art department at Washington University and helped establish that city’s School of Fine Arts. In 1884 Carl Gutherz moved to Paris for a 12-year residency; it was during this time that he painted the portrait of Morgan.
Among Gutherz’s other works are the mural on the ceiling of The Members Room in the Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress, and painted portraits of Jefferson Davis and Susan B. Anthony. Extensive collections of the artist’s works are located at the Brooks Gallery in Memphis, and at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. Gutherz died in Washington, D.C., in 1907 at the age of 63.