Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Painting Catharine Lorillard Wolfe's Portrait

Painting Catharine Lorillard Wolfe's portrait:             "A Woman ahead of her time".

Catharine Lorillard Wolfe  Collection Grace Church, New York, N.Y., 22 x 18 oil on linen

Catharine Lorillard Wolfe was a prominent American philanthropist who strongly believed in the value of education and the role museums could play in presenting art to the public.



 She was the only woman of the 106 founding members of the The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The bequest of her art collection was her most significant philanthropic endeavor. Her collection gave the Metropolitan its first significant representation of the kinds of paintings that appealed to the general public. Miss Wolfe subsequently bequeathed 140 paintings to the museum, including Weaning the Calves (1879) by Rosa Bonheur, and an endowment for their maintenance. Wolfe's gift of $200,000 was the first permanent endowment fund for buying art ever given to a major American museum.

As a proud elected member of the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club, I was inspired to paint her portrait because of her generosity, social good will, her dedication to supporting women, and cultivating quality fine arts, and because I had a unique family connection with the Lorillards.


 She was a strong and passionate woman who, instead of just being a  wealthy socialite, really wanted to help make the world better.

The Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club was established in 1896. The purpose at the time was to provide aid, counsel and exhibition opportunities to young women artists in New York City. 

Now, getting back to my challenge to bring recognition to such a caring, generous and special woman…where to find an image reference for her portrait!

    I looked everywhere, The New York Library, New York Historical Society, The Newport Rhode Island Historical Society, The Smithsonian, The Library of Congress, The National Portrait Gallery, and The New York Times Archives.  Consequently, I had to do a lot of research…which I will explain further on. I had found no images of Catharine, besides the beautiful oil portrait by Alexandre Cabanel painted in 1876, which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.




Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1876, Aleandre Cabanel, Collection Metropolitan Museum of Art,                      The Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection 




But I was not going to give up! Yes, I did finally find an image of Catharine, in her later 40's. It was a rendering after a photograph by William Kurtz, in the collection of the New York Public Library, (I could not find the photo the rendering was based on). 

Now, I had something to start with! I had the face to base the portrait from and the background. I placed Catharine in the same background color scheme as in the Metropolitan Museum Cabanel portrait. This way, she is captured in her real setting in her real period of time. I also changed her hair style so it would be as elegant as in the Cabanel portrait. But I still needed a torso and period dress that fitted her respected social status and period of the 1870's. After much research, I found in the Library of Congress, a photograph of President Garfield's wife, in an elegant day dress of the same exact period.


Catharine Lorillard Wolfe rendering after William Kurtz photograph artist unknown






Detail of Cabanel Portrait


The rendering proportionately  placed on the Garfield torso and dress



Also, I have a very unique connection to Catharine, which I think added to my inspiration for painting her portrait.  My great-great grandfather Charles Littlefield and my great-great uncle R. Wyndham Walden, both in the Racing Hall of Fame, were the horse trainers for the Lorillard family. 


The Lorillard family were one on the most successful and powerful racing families in the mid-to late 1800’s. Under my great-great uncles R. Wyndham Walden guidance, the Lorillard family won the Preakness Stakes a record five straight years between 1878 and 1882; the Belmont Stakes in 1878, 1880, and 1881; and the Travers Stakes in 1878 and 1880. Among George Lorillard's best horses were the famous Saunterer, Vanguard, Grenada, Tom Ochiltree, and Duke of Magenta


What is even more exciting for me is that I have letters, (dating from the late 1800’s) of horse racing correspondence between George Lorillard and the Walden family. My great great-grandfather, Charles Littlefield also trained for Pierre Lorillard, George Lorillard’s brother.


This has been a fun, exciting and rewarding portrait to create!


To see more of my portraiture, please visit my website:


A wonderful mid-late 1800's print showing RW Walden & Lorillard winnings

I received this lovely letter from Reverend J. Don Waring of Grace Church:



To see more portraits by Susan Boone Durkee, visit: