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Elizabeth Drexel Dahlgren

Painting of Elizabeth Drexel Dahlgren by Adolfo Felice Müller-Ury


Adolfo Felice Müller-Ury
Switzerland/United States; 1862-1947
Elizabeth Drexel Dahlgren, 1894
oil on canvas; 79 x 46 inches
Gift of John Vinton Dahlgren (B.A. 1889, M.A. 1891, L.L.B. 1891, L.L.M. 1892) and Elizabeth Drexel Dahlgren, 1898

One of the most important portraits in the Art Collection has been restored to its "Gilded Age" splendor, and soon will be hung in Carroll Parlor.

Elizabeth Drexel Dahlgren by Adolfo Felice Müller-Ury depicts the landmark Georgetown benefactress in life size at full length in a formal satin gown. For many years the 79 x 46-inch painting hung in the foyer outside of Riggs Library where, unfortunately, the lower part of the canvas and the ornate but fragile frame suffered damage.

Elizabeth ("Bessie") Drexel, of the prominent Philadelphia family, married John Vinton Dahlgren of New York in 1889. The portrait was commissioned five years later, and was given to the University in 1898. Mrs. Dahlgren was the donor of Dahlgren Chapel, or the Chapel of the Sacred Heart, at the University's physical epicenter in the quadrangle bounded by Healy Hall, "Old North", and the former Jesuit residences. The chapel was a memorial to the Dahlgren's first son, who died in infancy.

As the industrial and economic expansion during the decades following the Civil War created more and greater wealth for increasing numbers of citizens in this country, many artists catered to a desire by the newly (or longtime) rich to have refined portraits made of themselves and their families. Virtuosi portraitists such as John Singer Sargent and Cecilia Beaux are among the most famous names in this field. Müller-Ury (1862–1947), a Swiss immigrant, studied in Germany, Rome, and Paris; after coming to the United States in 1887, he pursued his considerable talents as a portraitist among a similar circle of socially and politically prominent persons.

Müller-Ury came to the attention of the Dahlgrens probably from his work on a portrait of James Cardinal Gibbons, archbishop of the diocese in Baltimore, who was a friend of the couple. Müller-Ury's painting of the cardinal now is among three by the artist in the collection of The Catholic University of America; he is represented also in the National Portrait Gallery, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the White House collection. A biography of the artist currently is being written by an art historian in Britain; Georgetown's painting will receive prominent inclusion in