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Portrait of Godfrey Frankenstein

ca. 1840 John Frankenstein Born: Germany 1816 Died: New York, New York 1881 oil on canvas 23 7/8 x 20 in. (60.7 x 50.7 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase 1973.159 Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 3rd Floor, 10B

Luce Center Label

John Frankenstein painted this portrait of his younger brother Godfrey, while they shared studio space in Ohio. Godfrey Frankenstein was elected president of the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts in 1841, and was later known as "The Painter of Niagara Falls" after creating about a hundred paintings of the national treasure. Here, John portrayed his brother surrounded by plaster casts of classical sculpture and numerous thick books, the largest of which is labeled "Schiller," probably referring to the German philosopher, Friedrich Schiller. Dressed in a coat and tie, Godfrey is absorbed in his own watercolor painting. The partially painted canvas over Godfrey's right shoulder could be Angel and Child or The Dawn of Life, both unlocated works by John. This tranquil scene of an artist absorbed in his work contrasts John's later pessimistic views on his profession. After years of public neglect and struggles to secure patrons, John published a poem, "American Art: It's Awful Altitude" in which he condemned art unions, academics, patrons, and successful artists.


Architecture Interior - studio

Object - art object - painting

Object - art object - sculpture

Object - written matter - book

Portrait male - Frankenstein, Godfrey - bust

Recreation - leisure - letter reading and writing

Recreation - leisure - reading


paint - oil

fabric - canvas

About John Frankenstein

Born: Germany 1816 Died: New York, New York 1881