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Artist, Indiana Governors' Portrait Collection
Paris Chipman Dunning (1806-1884)
Governor of Indiana
December 26, 1848-December 5, 1849
Artist: James Forbes, American, c.1800-?
oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 29 1/2 (92.1 x 75.0)
Signed l.l.: Jas Forbes Pinx.
THE LIKENESS of Paris C. Dunning was the first state portrait painted by James Forbes from life. The artist's three earlier commissions-the portraits of Jonathan Jennings, Ratliff Boon, and James Whitcomb-had been done from other pictures, and judging from his correspondence with Conrad Baker, Forbes was aware of the superiority of portraits made from life and was looking forward to the opportunity of painting one or two of the former governors who were still living.
Governor Baker submitted to Dunning his plan of assembling the governors' likenesses, and Dunning consented to have his own painted at the earliest date possible. His reply to Baker was: "I will accommodate myself to Mr Forbes convenience, whom I will meet in Evansville on next Wednesday or Thursday, if that time will suit him . . . . Your recommendation of Mr. Forbes is entirely satisfactory to me." (1)
The sittings began in September, 1869, and the picture was ready for delivery in about two weeks both men having enjoyed the experience of watching the portrait take shape. "The Gov. seems much pleased to give me every advantage he can in the way of sitting," wrote Forbes. "He says 'he is here for the sole purpose and desires the portrait may be a success.' - It is of course unsafe to say any thing about it as yet but, I think Gov. Dunning has individual character enough to make the likeness as strong as I wish, if it should have no other merit-" (2)
The portrait reflects the confidence with which Forbes approached the project of painting his subject from life. The artist has been much more successful here in creating a pictorially "whole" effect - the body proportions are correct and the gesture is more fluid. The variety of textures and clarity of color lend a vivid tangibility. The "individual character" which Forbes admired so much in his model is well expressed. His friendly and candid eyes are fixed on the spectator; his posture is alert, and his expression reflects a genuine interest in people and events.
(1) Dunning to Governor Baker, September 17, 1869. Governor Baker's correspondence.
(2) Forbes to Governor Baker, September 27, 1869. Ibid.
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.