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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Painting: 19th century: Portrait of Mendes Cohen
Portrait of Mendes Cohen

Portrait of Mendes Cohen
Joseph Wood
oil on wood
15 5/8 x 14 in. (39.7 x 35.7 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase

Joseph Wood was primarily a miniaturist, but he created several larger portraits, including this image of Mendes Cohen. The age of the sitter suggests he is probably Colonel Mendes I. Cohen, who was born in Richmond in 1796. Cohen enlisted in the army when he was sixteen and served during the War of 1812. He worked as a banker until 1829, when he retired and embarked on a six-year tour of Europe and the Middle East. He collected a wide variety of relics on his travels and was the first American to carry the flag up the River Nile in Egypt. Wood painted this portrait in 1818, before Cohen set off on his travels and while both men were living in Baltimore. Cohen appears to regard the viewer with a haughty expression that conveys the confidence that would carry him through his adventures later in life.

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