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Randolph LaSale Coats
Artist, Indiana Governors' Portrait Collection
Ralph F. Gates (1893-1978), painted 1946
Governor of Indiana
January 8, 1945-January 10, 1949
Artist: Randolph LaSalle Coats, American, 1891-1957
oil on canvas, 45 1/8 x 34 (104.6 x 86.3)
Signed l.r.: RANDOLPH COATS-
HOWARD PECKHAM facilitated the task of having a portrait painted of the modest and reluctant Ralph Gates. In 1945, Peckham consulted Wilbur Peat regarding the choice of an artist who, in accord with the governor's wishes, had not previously painted a portrait for the official collection. (1) The governor, absorbed in the affairs of the state, regarded having his portrait painted as an unpleasant duty. Pressure from outside sources concerning the selection of an artist made the subject even more loathsome to Gates. When Randolph Coats was chosen as the artist for the commission, Howard Peckham was obliged to make excuses for Gates, who apparently postponed the project in 1945. The portrait was painted in the summer of 1946, (2) with sittings held in the governor's office at the State House. To date no information regarding the commission has been found in the hand of Coats or Gates, although Mrs. Gates recalls that her husband had a favorable reaction to the portrait. (3)
Coats has posed the governor in a red upholstered chair with his right shoulder toward the viewer, holding a document or letter in his left hand. His relaxed yet erect position conveys a sense of dignity and determination. The essential features of the painting, the face and foreground details, are recorded by the artist in a meticulous, linear manner which he reserved primarily for portrait work, while the background and subordinate details are by contrast more freely rendered. Coats's painting method involved the gradual buildup of clear tints of color, resulting in a translucency of skin tones for which the artist was frequently praised. Unfortunately, the pigment vehicle in this case has yellowed significantly with age, and some of the original delicacy and freshness have been lost.
The flamboyant, popular Randolph Coats was an accomplished painter and educator. Born in Richmond, Indiana, he attended the John Herron Art Institute and the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts, and studied independently in Europe. He returned to Indianapolis in 1922, maintaining a studio there until his death, but often summering at Cape Cod or the Smoky Mountains. Coats was a charter member and president of the Indiana Artists' Club, and he produced three films about art. Primarily known for his portraiture, most of Coats's commissions came from prestigious Hoosiers who knew and admired the artist's work. His involvement with the Governors Portrait Collection included the painting of two of the governors' portraits, Gates and Schricker, and an extensive restoration project on thirty-six of the portraits in 1953. (4)
(1) Howard Peckham to Governor Gates, April 27, 1945, Howard Peckham to Frances Norris Streit, April 15, 1946. See, File pertaining to Governors' Portraits, Indiana Historical Bureau.
(2) A photograph of Gates with the completed portrait was published in the Indianapolis News, August 29, 1946.
(3) Mrs. Phil McNagny, Jr., to the editor, September 23, 1978. Files pertaining to Governors' Portraits, Indiana Historical Bureau.
(4) "The Governors Take a Cleaning," The Indianapolis Star Magazine, September 20, 1953, p. 4, illus.
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.