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Wisconsin Historical Museum Online Collections

This image is a portrait of Lucius Fairchild by John Singer Sargent painted in 1887.
This portrait of Lucius Fairchild, painted by John Singer Sargent in 1887, can be found in the online painting collection.

About the Painting Tour

Content of the Tour

The Wisconsin Historical Society began to collect paintings in 1854. Currently the Wisconsin Historical Museum owns more than 400 examples and this tour features nearly every one of them. Subjects are primarily individuals, scenes, activities, and events that relate to Wisconsin history. Portraits comprise the bulk of the collection, and among these, the nineteenth century is a focus. Significant national and regional artists are represented, including John Singer Sargent, George Catlin, Eastman Johnson, Thomas Sully, Robert Sully, Homer Dodge Martin, Samuel Marsden Brookes, James Reeve Stuart, George C. Bingham, John Steuart Curry, Everett Kinstler, and George Pollard.

This tour does not include paintings in the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society's historic sites, nor does it include unframed works of art in the collections of the Society's Visual Materials Archive.

The tour contains selected information about the paintings. The first thing you see is a thumbnail image and a brief description of each artifact. Clicking on the thumbnail results in a zoom image. Clicking on the brief description yields more information, including:

  • Catalog number - this is the identification number that the Wisconsin Historical Museum uses to track the object. Please refer to this number in any correspondence with Museum staff.
  • AAT object term - this is what the artifact is called according to the Art and Architecture Thesaurus, a vocabulary created by the J. Paul Getty Trust. (In a few instances, local terminology is used.)
  • Materials/Medium - this is the medium of the painting, in terms used by the Art and Architecture Thesaurus.
  • Object history - this is contextual information about the painting, the subject, the artist, and/or the circumstances surrounding the painting's creation, use, and acquisition by the Wisconsin Historical Society. If such information is not in the database, the object history does not appear. For many paintings, this information consists of texts quoted from various primary and secondary sources - most notably, the Dictionary of Wisconsin Biography, and various annual reports and catalogs of the Wisconsin Historical Society. These texts, transcribed verbatim, provide a flavor for the times in which the paintings were made and acquired. Opinions expressed and phraseology used in quotations do not necessarily reflect current views of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
  • Dates - these are dates associated with the object's history. Dates usually refer to design, manufacture, and/or subject.

If you would like more information regarding the donor, size, or condition of any of the objects, please contact the Curator of Domestic Life. The Historical Society cannot provide information regarding appraisal values and storage locations.

Images in the Tour

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The images you see on this pictorial tour are scans taken from the Wisconsin Historical Society's files of photographs of Museum collections. Some paintings have not been photographed and no images appear for them. The images are not meant to be publication-quality, but rather were created for the purposes of collections management and reference.

If you would like to order an image of a painting, please note the subject, artist, and catalog number and consult the web page for Wisconsin Historical Images. Click on "How to Order" for instructions and a Reproduction Price List, Reproduction Order Form, and Permission Fee Schedule. Inquiries should be sent to the Visual Materials Archive via their online reference form or faxed to 608-264-6472.

Note: If there is not already a color copy negative or a high-resolution digital file for the painting you want, there will be a surcharge to create one. Learn more about how to order images.

Organization of the Tour

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The tour consists of lists of object records created from searches of a master database. The searches are based on various combinations of data - the painting genre, the name of the artist, and the subject.

You can elect to choose a painting genre or to browse the collection by artists' names. If you select "Browse by Artist," you will encounter an alphabetical list of artist names. Selecting an artist name will result in a list of paintings by that artist.

If you select "Portrait Paintings," you may elect to see portraits of women, children, Native Americans, or Wisconsin governors (organized chronologically). Or you may elect to browse the portraits by the name of the subject. If you select "Browse Subjects Alphabetically By Name," you will see a list of letters. Clicking on a letter will result in a list of paintings of people whose names (mostly surnames) begin with that letter. Within a given letter, the subjects appear in alphabetical order.

If you select any other object genre (Animal, Genre, History, Landscape, Marine, and Still Life), you will see a list of all paintings in that genre. Genres are defined thusly by the Art and Architecture Thesaurus:

  • Animal painting - "Paintings in which the primary subject is an animal, generally a dog, horse, or other prized pet or livestock, or an exotic wild animal."
  • Genre painting - Paintings "that represent scenes or events from everyday life."
  • History painting - "Paintings that depict multi-figure narrative scenes of real or legendary events, especially those in the academic style and with subject matter intended to convey a noble sentiment."
  • Landscape painting - Paintings "that depict outdoor scenes where the picture is dominated by the configuration, visual and aesthetic, of the land, bodies of water, and natural elements." For the purposes of this web tour, both creative landscapes and documentary topographical views are included under this heading.
  • Marine painting - Paintings "that depict scenes having to do with ships, shipbuilding, or harbors."
  • Still life painting - Paintings "in which the focus is a depiction of inanimate objects, as distinguished from art in which such objects are subsidiary elements in a composition. The term is generally applied to depictions of fruit, flowers, meat or dead game, vessels, eating utensils, and other objects."
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