Portrait of Godfrey Frankenstein

Media - 1973.159 - SAAM-1973.159_2 - 128230
Copied John Frankenstein, Portrait of Godfrey Frankenstein, ca. 1840, oil on canvas, 23 7820 in. (60.750.7 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1973.159
Free to use

Artwork Details

Portrait of Godfrey Frankenstein
ca. 1840
23 7820 in. (60.750.7 cm.)
Credit Line
Museum purchase
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Portrait
  • Recreation — leisure — reading
  • Recreation — leisure — letter reading and writing
  • Object — art object — painting
  • Object — art object — sculpture
  • Architecture Interior — studio
  • Object — written matter — book
  • Portrait male — Frankenstein, Godfrey — bust
Object Number

Artwork Description

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.