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John Bayless Hill
Artist, Indiana Governors' Portrait Collection
Thomas Posey (1750-1818)
Territorial Governor of Indiana
March 3, 1813-November 7, 1816
THE PORTRAIT of Thomas Posey was painted at the time Governor Baker was ordering the work for the State House. A clue to the whereabouts of an authentic likeness of Posey came through a picture of him in Dillon's History of Indiana. (1) Upon writing to the author in Washington for information about the original picture, Governor Baker was referred to relatives of Posey in Kentucky. They owned a miniature of him painted in 1795 by the noted American artist, James Peale (1749-1831). (2)
The man selected to copy and enlarge this miniature for the state was John Bayless Hill, a young local artist. "Jackie" Hill, as he was familiarly called, was born in Indianapolis in 1849, the son of John F. Hill of the firm of Drum and Hill. He studied for a brief period with Jacob Cox, the leading painter of the city.(3) He was introduced to Governor Baker by A. H. Conner, proprietor of the Indianapolis Daily and Weekly Journal, as "an artist of rare promise." (4) However, Hill's connection with Cox was probably more of a recommendation that Conner's letter, since we have reason to believe that Governor Baker and Jacob Cox were close friends. Hill was only twenty when the collection was being formed, but he had a studio of his own and must have been regarded as a portraitist of sufficient ability to carry out the order. (5)
A comparison of Hill's painting with a photograph of the miniature shows that he took a number of liberties with the original. Thomas Posey appears younger-much too young if we want to think of the portrait as representing him while in office - and his handsome, boyish face is decidedly lacking in character and expression. It is regrettable that no portrait exists depicting Posey as a man approaching sixty-three, his age at the time be became governor of Indiana Territory. He had fought in the Revolution and with Wayne in the Northwest and had risen to the rank of major-general. His ripe years and wide experience must have given him a forceful appearance, hardly like that which confronts us in the State House portrait.
John Hill's method of working was precise and painstaking. The brush strokes lack decisiveness and the paint is thin. The colors are peculiar, (6) too; the pale background, mottled with rose and gray tints, seems to emphasize the gentle, wistful character of the subject.
(1) John B. Dillon, A History of Indiana. . . , Indianapolis, 1859, frontispiece.
(2) Wilbur Peat states that the Posey miniature (present location unknown) was painted by Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860) in 1795, but this attribution is a mistake. A photograph of the miniature in the Indiana Picture Collection, Governors' File, Indiana State Library, bears an inscription assigning the miniature to Rembrandt Peale's uncle, the well-known miniature painter James Peale (1749-1831). From what can be determined by the photograph, the style of painting bears out this attribution. Furthermore, in 1795, when the miniature was most likely painted, Rembrandt Peale was seventeen years of age, and James Peale was at the height of his career as a miniature painter.
(3) Jacob P. Dunn, Greater Indianapolis. . . 2 volumes, Chicago, 1910, I, 482.
(4) Conner to Governor Baker, July 29, 1869. Governor Baker's correspondence.
(5) See Wilbur D. Peat, Pioneer Painters of Indiana, Art Association of Indianapolis, Indiana, 1954, pp. 180, 195, 233, for further information on John B. Hill.
(6) Hill's use of color was not related to the miniature, if one is to take as fact the inscription on the photograph cited in a note above. The description of color reads as follows: Eyes blue; hair chestnut; color, florid:/coat lead grey, vest black satin.
Source: Peat, Wilbur D. Portraits and Painters of the Governors of Indiana 1800-1978. Revised, edited and with new entries by Diane Gail Lazarus, Indianapolis Museum of Art. Biographies of the governors by Lana Ruegamer, Indiana Historical Society. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society and Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1978.