More Portraits of William Clark


William Clark (1810)
Charles Willson Peale

Oil on canvas
23-1/4 x 18-1/8 inches

Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827), was famous not only as an artist but also as the founder and curator of "Peale's Museum" in Philadelphia, which contained his remarkable collection of natural history specimens and more than one hundred of his own portraits of famous contemporaries.


jarvis's clark

William Clark (ca. 1810)
John Wesley Jarvis

Oil on canvas
29-3/4 x 25-1/8 inches

T his portrait was also painted in or about 1810, when Clark went East from St. Louis to meet with Nicholas Biddle, whom he had engaged to write the paraphrase of the captains' expeditionary journals. The painting purportedly was the work of the eccentric English-born American artist John Wesley Jarvis (1780-1840). John O'Fallon, Clark's nephew, confirmed that Jarvis's image was generally considered his uncle's truest likeness. Several copies are said to have been made for other members of the Clark family and, like Peale's painting of him, it was also copied by engravers for use as illustrations in books and articles.


clark portrait Voorhis

Sometime in the late 1800s, it is thought, this steel-plate engraving was produced as a near-duplicate of an oil portrait owned by the Clark family – probably the one by John Wesley Jarvis (see above). Apparently it was intended for publication in a book on the history of the State of Missouri. For nearly a hundred years the plate remained in the estate of William Clark's granddaughter, Julia Clark Voorhis. Much of that collection was acquired by the Missouri Historical Society, including such items as the elkskin-bound diary in which Captain Clark recorded his experiences and observations at Fort Clatsop. During the bicentennial of the expedition, Peyton C. "Bud" Clark, a direct descendant of General Clark, purchased several of the items remaining in the Voorhis collection, which was then owned by Valerie Anderson, a descendant of the attorney who had handled the Voorhis estate. Among them was the steel-plate engraving of Clark's 1810 portrait, from which Bud Clark had an edition of 100 copies printed.


Harding's Clark

William Clark (ca. 1820)
Chester Harding

Oil on canvas
94 x 60 inches
From the Collections of the St. Louis Mercantile Library
at the University of Missouri, St. Louis
Gift of the St. Louis County Court

Seven years after the Expedition's return, President Madison appointed Clark to be governor of a vast northern expanse of the Louisiana Purchase then known as Missouri Territory. In 1820, immediately after Congress admitted a small segment of the Territory into the Union as the twenty-fourth state, he entered the electoral race for its governorship. Abruptly he was called to Fincastle, Virginia, to the bedside of his wife Julia ("Judith"), who was mortally ill with breast cancer. He arrived six days after she died. Upon his return to St. Louis he learned that his opponent, his friend and former associate Alexander McNair had defeated him by almost three-quarters of the vote, borne on the fresh tide of democratic populism. His brand of Enlightenment-bred republicanism had been deposed.1

Sometime during those dark months he permitted a promising 28-year-old artist named Harding, who just happened to be in St. Louis, to portray him at the moment he left the governor's office for the last time. Harding was equal to the challenge – the opportunity. The Governor has just risen from his chair, and pauses to contemplate his future. Harding captures the dignified stance and attire consistent with Clark's aristocratic birthright. Beneath his graying hair, still tied in the queue he had worn as a young officer, shines the stoic mien that he habitually wore, the lips that could spring to an ever-ready smile or laugh; eyes that could study, measure and assimilate all he observed. A man of honor and distinction, his right hand grasps a book of some sort of knowledge he might have pursued, while over his shoulder and far to the west, the sun sets beyond the wide Missouri and the Rockies – "those tremendious mountanes" where he had endured some of his most harrowing days of his life.

The shock of personal tragedy, combined with the humiliation of defeat and removal from public service, made deeper by the threat of financial hardship, was mercifully short-lived. He was soon reappointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs. In September of 1821, 51-year-old William Clark wed a young widow of long acquaintance, Harriet Kennerly.

This painting, as well as two likenesses of the American hero Daniel Boone that he painted during the same visit to Missouri, helped to launch the Massachusetts-born Chester Harding (1792-1866) into a successful career as a professional artist. His output of more than 1,000 portraits included those of many of the most important figures in American history, such as Senator Daniel Webster (two) and Webster's prominent colleague Henry Clay, the Supreme Court's Chief Justice Marshall, and the poet and landscape artist Washington Allston.


bust of clark

When General Clark died in 1838 his remains were interred on the farm of his nephew, John O'Fallon. In 1860 they were moved, along with those of his three deceased children, his second wife, Harriet, and Jefferson Kearney Clark, to Bellefontaine Cemetery in North St. Louis, where they were placed beneath a stately granite obelisk on a knoll overlooking the Mississippi River. The bronze bust, sculpted by William Ordway Partridge of New York (also known for his 1922 statue of Pocahontas in Jamestown, Virginia), evidently was influenced by the Peale and Jarvis paintings. It stands under the watchful eyes of small sculptures of a grizzly bear and a bison.


1. William E. Foley, Wilderness Journey: The Life of William Clark (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004), Chapter Eight, "Mr. Governor."

Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service's Challenge Cost Share Program.