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  • Henry Wilson, Onthank

Henry Wilson


Nahum Ball Onthank


Faneuil Hall  


Faneuil Hall
United States
42° 21' 36.2376" N, 71° 3' 22.4784" W








Oil on Canvas




After representing Massachusetts for three terms in the United States Senate, Henry Wilson (1812-1875) was elected Vice President during President Ulysses S. Grant’s second term. As a young man, Wilson moved from New Hampshire to Natick, Massachusetts, where he learned shoemaking and ultimately opened his own factory. He later entered politics, where he was recognized as an able statesman who was careful to acquaint himself with public opinion and, as such, was an early campaigner for emancipation. However, he also championed less popular causes such as voting and civil rights for the freed slaves, women’s rights, temperance, and educational reform. This portrait of Wilson was painted by Nahum Ball Onthank (1823-1888), a self-taught artist who also painted portraits of United States Senator Charles Sumner, Revolutionary leader Samuel Adams, and abolitionist John Brown. In this painting, Onthank depicts Wilson in very conservative attire, with a stiff upturned collar and a simple necktie. His somber clothing nearly fades into the background, and he is framed by books and letters - perhaps a reference to his many published works on slavery and emancipation. Unlike more lavish portraits of European aristocracy, depictions of American politicians and patriots tended to be more reserved and austere, a testament to the colonial values that shaped the country.

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