Ohio History Journal

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A Lost Portrait?

Frank Duveneck Paints

Elizabeth Blackwell


Frank Duveneck was probably Ohio's best known artist during the

late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and is certainly one

whose reputation has been sustained to the present day. Born in

Covington, Kentucky, in 1848, he began his career decorating

churches in the United States and Canada. In 1870 he traveled to

Munich to study with Wilhelm von Diez, returning three years later to

Cincinnati. By 1877, Duveneck's reputation had been firmly

established, chiefly as a result of his one-man show two years before

at the Boston Art Club. Indeed, it was Henry James who remarked in

his article on the exhibition in The Nation that "the discovery of an

unsuspected man of genius is always an interesting event, and

nowhere perhaps could such an event excite a higher relish than in

the aesthetic city of Boston."1 Despite the inducements, however,

which Duveneck received to stay in that city, including several

immediate orders for portraits, the artist decided to return to Europe.

Not until 1890 would he return to Cincinnati and to a distinguished

teaching career which lasted until his death in 1919.

Around the same time that Duveneck was born, in 1848, another

Cincinnati resident, Elizabeth Blackwell, was beginning her second

year of study at Geneva Medical College in Geneva, New York. She

was a native of Bristol England; in 1832, at the age of eleven, she had

emigrated to the United States with her family. In 1838, after

spending a few financially unsuccessful years in New York City, the

Blackwells moved to Cincinnati, where Elizabeth's father, Samuel,

intended to start a sugar refinery. His unexpected death shortly after

their arrival ended this scheme, and as a financial necessity the family

organized a school, the Cincinnati English and French Academy for




Dr. Sahli is a graduate of Vassar College and The University of Pennsylvania, and is

employed currently as an archivist for the National Historical Publications and Records

Commission, Washington, D.C.

1. Mahonri Sharp Young, "Duveneck and Henry James: A Study in Contrasts,"

Apollo, XCII, no. 103 (September 1970), 212.