One of the most prominent portraits in the Art Collection is restored to Gilded Age splendor and soon will be hanging in Carroll Parlor. Elizabeth Drexel Dahlgren, by Adolfo Felice Müller-Ury, depicts the Georgetown University benefactress in life size, full length, in a formal, fur-trimmed satin gown. The imposing 79 by 46-inch painting hung in the foyer outside Riggs Library for many years. Unfortunately, the lower part of the canvas and its original antique frame suffered damage, but are now repaired and restored.
Elizabeth (“Bessie”) Drexel, of the prominent Philadelphia family, married Georgetown alumnus John Vinton Dahlgren (B.A. 1889; M.A. 1891; L.L.B. 1891; L.L.M. 1892) of New York in 1889. She donated the funds for 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 Dahlgrens’ first son, who died in infancy. The Dahlgrens commissioned Müller-Ury to paint her portrait in 1894, and gave it to the University in 1898, shortly after its completion.
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 in a circle of socially and politically prominent citizens. He was one of many portrait artists catering to the increasingly wealthy population created by the industrial and economic expansion during the decades following the Civil War. Virtuoso portraitists such as John Singer Sargent and Cecilia Beaux are among the most famous names in the field.
Müller-Ury’s portrait of the Dahlgrens’ close friend James Cardinal Gibbons, archbishop of the diocese in Baltimore, probably brought him to their attention. Müller-Ury’s painting of the cardinal is one of three by the artist in the collection of The Catholic University of America; the National Portrait Gallery, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the White House also hold examples of his work. A biography of the artist is being written by an art historian in Britain, who recently contacted us for information on and photographs of the portrait.