Indiana Governor John Gibson (1740 - 1822)

John Gibson
Acting Territorial Governor of Indiana
July 4, 1800-January 10, 1801
June, 1812-May, 1813

A DOCUMENTED portrait of John Gibson has not been found to date, although numerous attempts have been made to find one. Over the years several portraits have been associated with this governor's name. Conrad Baker had written to John B. Dillon, historian, in 1869 about the possibility of obtaining portraits of certain men, among them Gibson, and Dillon replied that he doubted the existence of a contemporary likeness of the territorial secretary. (Dillon to Governor Baker, August 16, 1869. Governor Baker's correspondence.) Baker continued his search during his administration, and other attempts were made in later years to supply the missing picture. A portrait believed to be of Gibson was published in the Indianapolis News late in 1932 in connection with a series of articles about the governors of Indiana, (Indianapolis News, November 30, 1932, part 2, p.1.) but later investigation disclosed that the portrait was not that of the Secretary of Indiana Territory but a contemporary Pennsylvanian of the same name.

In 1941, another painting surfaced which was said to be a portrait of John Gibson. (See Indiana History Bulletin, XIX, no. 4, April, 1942, p. 150, and Wilbur D. Peat, Portraits and Painters of the Governors of Indiana, Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Society, 1944, pp. 392-93 for more information.) In April of that year, Mrs. Marguerite Anderson of the Indiana Division of the State Library received an inquiry from a Mrs. Marie Carey of New York regarding the career of John Gibson. In the correspondence that followed, the Library learned that Mrs. Carey owned a portrait of John Gibson which, she wrote, had come into her possession through several relatives from Gibson's daughter. The painter was unknown, but an inscription (The inscription on the back of the canvas, written in ink by an unknown hand, reads, Judge John Gibson Indian Interpreter & Judge of Allegheny County. Portrait June 1806 Phila. Given to his daughter Mrs. George Wallace. The inscription was reported by Peat, loc. cit. It was covered in relining the canvas in 1941.) on the reverse of the canvas indicated that the portrait was painted in Philadelphia in 1806. The portrait was in poor condition, dark and colorless. In the interest of historical documentation, Eli Lilly of Indianapolis purchased the portrait and it currently hangs in Grouseland, the Vincennes home of William Henry Harrison. It was included in Wilbur Peat's catalogue, Portraits and Painters of the Governors of Indiana of 1944. This portrait was copied by an Indiana artist for the official collection in 1964. (David Mannweiler, " 'Lost' Portrait Fills Out Set, " Indianapolis News, January 13, 1978, reports the circumstances of the copy.)

The discovery of this painting in 1941 would certainly have provided a satisfying conclusion to a long, frustrating search to complete the official collection. Unfortunately, a shadow of doubt was cast upon the authenticity of the Gibson portrait in 1947 by an unrelated inquiry into the affairs of a dealer of questionable repute, a Mrs. Collins, (G. William Berquist, Reference Department, The New York Public Library, to Howard Peckham, Director, Indiana Historical Bureau, May 6, 1947. The original has been lost, but copies of the letter exist in the files of the Indiana Historical Bureau and Indiana Historical Society.) of New York. Mrs. Collins used several aliases, among them "Mrs. Carey." She corresponded with many institutions from the address given by Mrs. Carey in her letters to the Indiana State Library regarding the Gibson portrait. It seems that she had sold and offered many portraits of an historical nature which were not what they purported to be. This information does not prove the Gibson portrait to be unauthentic, but it does raise grave suspicions. It is to be hoped that some future technical examination of the portrait will bring more conclusive information to light.

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.