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  • Writer's pictureTodd DeGarmo

A portrait of Charles Evans Hughes

On May 22, 1971, 50 years ago this Saturday, a portrait of Charles Evans Hughes was presented to Crandall Library during the dedication of Library's new wing. Hughes' daughter, Elizabeth Hughes Gossett and her husband, Mr. William T. Gossett unveiled their gift, they had donated the previous year.

Charles Evans Hughes 1921, de Laszlo, The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library

The Post-Star and Times reported that the "weather was cool, but intermittent sunshine warmed the audience seated in front of the bandstand." Hughes's son-in-law, William T. Gossett spoke at length of Justice Hughes's "family background, his conduct as a husband and father, and his philosophy as Chief Justice."

William T. & Elizabeth Hughes Gossett.
William T. & Elizabeth Hughes Gossett

He opened his speech with, "It is entirely appropriate that my wife and I should present to Crandall Library a portrait of Charles Evans Hughes. For not only was his birth in this community a source of great pride to him; he returned to the area many time during his long life."

Grace M. Van Wirt, president of the Crandall Library Trustees, agreed in a thank you letter to the Gossetts: "It is peculiarly fitting that this portrait should come to Glens Falls and to Crandall Library. I think I could say with accuracy that your father is Glens Falls' most illustrious 'son'."

The oil on canvas portrait of Charles Evans Hughes given to the Library was painted in 1921 by the artist Philip Alexius de Laszlo (1869-1937), a leading portrait painter of the early 20th century. Born in Hungary, studied in Austria and settled in Britain, de Lazio was especially known for painting kings and presidents and leaders in the world of wealth, according to his obituary in The Art Digest. In his later years he held numerous exhibitions in New York and painted portraits of famous Americans, including Presidents Wilson, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, and such other prominent sitters as Andrew Mellon, General Pershing, and Elihu Root.

On a trip to Washington several years ago, I found another portrait of Hughes, also painted by de Laszlo in 1921, on display at the National Portrait Gallery. Its label read:

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

"Charles Evans Hughes, 1862-1948. Born Glens Falls, New York. Twice a member of the Supreme Court, Charles Evans Hughes was first appointed an associate justice in 1910 but resigned in 1916 to accept the Republican nomination for president. After his narrow defeat, he returned to private law practice until 1921, when he was named Secretary of State in Warren G. Harding's administration. With the Senate's rejection of the Treaty of Versailles the year before, Hughes helped forge a separate treaty with Germany, formally ending the war between the two countries. He also called a conference in Washington for the limitation of international armaments. By the time of his resignation in 1925, Hughes had given greater definition to the Monroe Doctrine and improved the quality of the U.S. Foreign Service. In 1930, Hughes was nominated again to the high court, this time as Chief Justice. Philip Alexius de Laszlo (1869-1937). Oil on canvas, 1921. Bequest of Chauncey L. Waddell. NPG.84.230"

The Library's portrait of Hughes has always been called "unfinished, or the "study" for the final portrait now housed at the National Portrait Gallery, as also noted by the artist on the canvas. It's very existence was unknown, according to the 1971 article of the dedication, until it was located in New York City by John J. Cunningham, chairman of the board of trustees of the Hyde Foundation, and then acquired by the Gossetts.

In preparing this blog, I recently found new information that sheds a brighter light on its creation back in 1921, calling it the first of two portraits painted that July. Quoting The De Laszlo Archive Trust, from their online Catalogue, Works in Public Collections:

"De Laszlo is reputed to have seen Charles Hughes in the street in Washington, D.C. and determined to paint him. Despite Hughes' pleas that he was too busy he was persuaded by the promise that the portrait would be complete in two sittings. The artists not satisfied with his first portrait and put the canvas aside, much to the distress of the sitter. Such was the speed at which de Laszlo painted, however, he proceeded to complete the picture in two sittings. Unusually, the rejected portrait was inscribed and give to William Castle Jr and is currently untraced."

C.E. Hughes and Elizabeth, Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library.

In 2016, the Folklife Center celebrated Hughes, with his de Laszlo portrait as the centerpiece, with an exhibition and public programs called, Charles Evans Hughes, A Native Son, September 8 to December 31, 2016, focusing on his lifelong association with the greater Glens Falls region and upstate New York.

We are currently reaching out to the National Portrait Gallery and The De Laszlo Archive Trust, to tell them that the first "untraced" portrait of Hughes painted by de Laszlo in 1921 resides in Glens Falls, the place of Hughes' birth.


Sources in the Folklife Center special collections:

"Portrait of Hughes Presented at Library Dedication. Unveiled by Daughter of Chief Justice at Ceremonies in Park" by Florence McIlvaine, Post-Star and Times, Glens Falls, NY, Monday, May 24, 1971.

"Remarks by William T. Gossett In Presenting to The Crandall Library A Portrait of Charles Evans Hughes, Glens Falls, NY. May 22, 1971" typed manuscript.

Letter dated July 30, 1970, to Mrs. William Gossett from Grace M. Van Wirt.

Polly Hoopes Beeman Collection.

Folklife Center Program Files 2016.

Charles Evans Hughes Collection.

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