PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
We are approaching the 100th anniversary of the gift of the Baron von Steuben portrait to the Main Library building. It was presented June 5, 1913 and has hung over the South Room fireplace ever since.
It was painted by Steubenville native Eliphalet Andrews, and is advertised as “the artist’s best work.”
Andrews studied in Berlin and Paris in the 19th Century, returning to the U.S. to establish an art studio on 4th St. north of the library building.
He relocated to Washington, D.C. and became Director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art for many years.
During that time, he produced portraits of Dolly Madison, Andrew Johnson, and Thomas Jefferson for the White House.
In 1913, his widow donated the Baron von Steuben portrait to the library and the citizens of the area.
The portrait used an earlier portrait by Ralph Earl produced in 1786 as the basis for the Andrews work, but the review states that the new portrait is “based on previous ideas and previous pictures and historical information as was obtainable.”
Von Steuben is three-quarter size, with his right hand resting on the hilt of a sword, with the left hand gloved and holding a glove. The scene is set along the Hudson River with the West Point hills in the distance,
People often mistake von Steuben for George Washington due to the pose and white wig common of soldiers and gentlemen of that era.
In 2010, when the current Baron von Steuben visited our City, we were pleased to photograph the current Baron with his historic forefather, as well as our own current Baron von Steuben who represents the famous man in conjunction with Historic Fort Steuben.
Von Steuben shares the walls of the Main Library with a dozen other famous citizens and paintings also by Andrews, as well as Charles P. Filson, another Steubenville artist.
Several of these paintings were produced for use at the 1897 Steubenville Centennial Celebration, and were then stored for several years before being presented to the library.
Perhaps the portrait with the most unusual history is the painting of “Eunice Ingersoll Collier” who lived from 1790-1889. She was the wife of a Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney, and active in the community in the 19th Century.
Her painting formerly hung in the administrative offices of the library, and during a 1960s break-in of the library, a frustrated robber who couldn’t open the library safe slashed the painting with a sharp object right through her face.
The painting has taken down and the pieces carefully stored for future restoration.
In 1990, we sent the painting and its pieces to the Allen Art Museum restoration laboratory, who said that restoration would be $ 14,000. Due to the cost, we donated the painting to the Museum if they wanted to restore it or use it for practice restoration.
About 4 years later, the Museum called and said they had let their students use the painting to learn the restoration process, and we could now have it back for the cost of the materials, $ 300.
So, Eunice is back gracing the library walls again, but if you view the painting with just the right angle, the “X” slash is still slightly visible.
The library is now protected by an alarm system, and we had the paintings appraised to see what we needed to protect in value.
The appraisal stated that the paintings are only of local historical interest, and have no value at all. The frames are probably worth more than the paintings themselves.
They remain a delight to library users, some of whom say hello to them like any friend of the library.