William F. Cogswell, early settler of Pasadena, California: His portrait of President Lincoln hangs in the White House
While researching my Cogswell family line, I discovered a cousin who has an interesting connection to the early history of Pasadena, California (just a few miles west of where I currently live in Monrovia). William F. Cogswell (1819-1903) is descended, as I am, from Samuel Cogswell and Susanna Haven (discussed under the heading of John Cogswell, who was shipwrecked on the coast of Maine in 1635). William was a portrait artist from Fabius, New York. In the 1830s, while working in a Buffalo, New York color factory, he taught himself painting. During the 1840s, he worked in New York City as a professional portrait artist. He lived in California from 1873 until his death in South Pasadena in 1903, with the exception of several trips to the Hawaiian islands between 1878 and 1897.
Cogswell, a self-trained painter, created portraits of many of the most prominent men and women of his era, and he is best known for his life-sized portrait of Abraham Lincoln. In 1864, he was invited to the White House to make sketches of President Lincoln, and Cogswell used the sketches and possibly a photograph of Lincoln to create his famous Lincoln portrait. After Lincoln’s death, Congress issued a call for artists to submit portraits of Lincoln and appropriated $3,000 to be awarded to the winning artist. Cogswell submitted his portrait (completed in 1869) and won the competition. The Lincoln portrait became part of the White House collection, where it remains to this day.
Though well established on the east coast, at the age of 54, Cogswell moved west, and in 1873 he purchased 473 acres of land in what is now Pasadena, California. The wild foothills setting offered unimpeded views that likely captured the artist’s eye and imagination. The property extended east of Eaton Wash from north of the modern Eaton Canyon Golf Course to present day Foothill Boulevard and Sierra Madre Villa Avenue (near the Gold Line Metro light rail station). Cogswell’s purchase also included rights to half the water flow over a waterfall located north of present day Pasadena Glen. With the aid of 70 Chinese laborers, Cogswell’s land was cleared and planted with citrus trees and grape vines. Water was transported from the waterfall downhill by flume or clay pipe to irrigate the land. A beautiful Victorian home was built on the northern edge of the property (see photo below). In 1876, Cogswell and his son-in-law, William Porter Rhoades, founded the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel on the site, and for a brief time, the Villa was the premier winter resort west of the Mississippi.
There is a mystery involving a copy that Cogswell made for the city of Pasadena of his Lincoln portrait. Cogswell’s obituary, which ran on page 1 of the Pasadena Evening Star (26 Dec 1903), refers to a Cogswell painting hanging in the Pasadena Public Library that was a replica of the famous portrait. The enterprising Cogswell appears to have painted at least three copies (possibly more) of his White House Lincoln portrait. One hangs in the California State Capitol in Sacramento, overlooking the Assembly Chambers. In 2008, a Pasadena resident who publishes a local blog, Michael Coppress, reviewed notes and letters contained in a Pasadena Public Library folder on Cogswell, which indicated that a third portrait was hanging in the Royal Palace in Honolulu, Hawaii. (In 1890 Cogswell travelled to the islands to paint Queen Liliuokalani and Hawaiian royalty).
It seems the library had trouble finding a suitable place for the life-sized portrait of the 6″4″ tall Great Emancipator. Sometime after 1903, the library’s painting was removed from the library walls, placed in storage and forgotten. Decades later, a Los Angeles Times article dated 7 Feb 1932 reported the painting had been found. Under the headline “Rare Lincoln Portrait Found — Rare Oil Painting Discovered in Pasadena,” the Times reported that the portrait had been found in the library’s storage loft. The article stated the painting was in perfect condition and in a heavy gold frame. The article also announced that the painting would be displayed at the upcoming opening of the new Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
A few decades after that, a 1961 letter to the Pasadena Public Library and correspondence with the Library of Congress and Frick Art Reference Library stated that Cogswell’s Lincoln portrait belonged to the Pasadena Historical Society and was hanging in the Pasadena Public Library. Therefore, it appears that a copy of the Lincoln portrait was hanging (off and on) or in storage at the library from at least 1903 to 1961. Then, sometime after 1961, the portrait seems to have vanished again.
After learning Cogswell’s story and that of Pasadena’s Lincoln portrait, Michael Coppress wanted to see the portrait, but discovered after contacting the library, Pasadena Historical Museum and the city government, that there was no painting to be found in Pasadena. He also emailed the Hawaiian State Archivist asking about the Lincoln portrait in Hawaii, but the archivist emailed back stating they had no record of Cogswell’s Lincoln portrait either.
So, the mystery remains. Based on Cogswell’s obituary, the 1932 Times article and 1961 library correspondence, we know that from at least 1903 to 1961 Cogswell’s replica of his famous Lincoln portrait was either hanging or stored in the Pasadena Public Library. Based on the 1961 correspondence from the Hawaiian Historical Society, we know that Cogswell left another replica of his famous Lincoln portrait in the Royal Palace. It wouldn’t seem that such paintings could just vanish, but that is what seems to have occurred.
So, where is the Lincoln portrait that hung for so many decades in the Pasadena Public Library?
Subsequent research has revealed that the Albion Castle at Hunter’s Point in San Francisco has a replica of Cogswell’s famous Lincoln portrait, and it may well be the portrait that hung in the Pasadena Public Library for so many decades. If it is, no one knows for sure how it got there. If it was the picture that was originally in Pasadena, it means that the City has lost it three times (at least)!
I’ve posted a photo (below) of the Albion Castle portrait — > the original image was found HERE.