Harriet Lane Johnston

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In 1841, U.S. senator James Buchanan became the guardian of his niece Harriet Lane (1830-1903), who had lost both of her parents. As she matured, Harriet’s sharp wit, sociability, and good looks made her a political asset. When the bachelor Buchanan was elected president of the United States in 1856, Harriet became the official hostess of the White House. In her new capacity, she entertained artists and supported them in their efforts to establish a national art museum. She also welcomed international guests to Washington, including Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales. In 1866 she married Baltimore banker Henry Elliott Johnston and together they amassed an important art collection, which she bequeathed to “a national gallery of art.” William Henry Rinehart undercuts the cold formality of some nineteenth-century portrait busts by presenting Harriet smiling, with her hair delicately swept back in ribbons to convey her warmth and elegance.

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“Mrs. Johnston has held the highest social position an American woman can hold, both in this country and in England, and she is a high-bred woman, of stately manner and beautiful personality.” Los Angeles Times, 1887

Harriet Lane Johnston
28 x 18 7/8 x 12 5/8 in. (71.2 x 48.0 x 32.1 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Bequest of Harriet Lane Johnston

Mediums Description
  • Portrait female – Johnston, Harriet Lane – bust
Object Number
Linked Open Data
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