The portrait of Moses Van Campen displayed in the Angelica Public Library was painted by John Phillips. Included in the History of Chicago by A.T. Andreas, published in 1885, is this biography John Phillips.
HISTORY OF CHICAGO
EARLIEST PERIOD TO THE PRESENT TIME
In Three Volumes.
Volume II. – From 1857 Until The Fire Of 1871.
By A. T. Andreas
The A T. Andreas Company, Publishers
JOHN PHILLIPS, one of the leading portrait artists of the country and an original member of the Academy of Design, was born in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, on May 8, 1822. From his earliest years he had a fondness for drawing. In 1836, his parents emigrated to Canada, leaving their son in the care of relatives, but his desire to see the West overcame the cautions which he had received, and the next year he determined, without the knowledge of his parents, to join them in America. He sailed for New York, intending to go to Toronto, where his father had decided to locate. While he was at Rochester, he accidentally learned that his parents had passed through that city, three weeks previously, on their way back to Scotland.
He determined to work out his own career, and accordingly engaged himself with the proprietor of the Langworth Farm and Nursery. There, after the labors of the day, in a log cabin, he busily engaged himself with his pencil. At the age of twenty, he launched out as a portrait painter, and it may be imagined that his first efforts were crude and his progress slow. In 1847, he obtained his first orders of distinction, having been commissioned to paint, while in Albany, the portraits of Governor Young of New York, Ira Harris, Henry O'Reilly, of the Court of Appeals, and many of the State senators.
In 1848, Mr. Phillips married the daughter of Major Hartshorn, of Angelica, Allegany Co., N. Y., and the next year started with his wife for Porto Rico, West Indies. There he worked to such good financial advantage that, in 1852, he was enabled to go to Europe to prosecute his studies, his wife accompanying him on this trip. He carried with him letters to Sir John Watson Gordon, of Edinburgh; from him to Sir Edwin Landseer; and from the latter to John Phillip, the painter of the famous gypsy scenes, who had then returned from Spain. Upon the recommendation of the latter artist, Mr. Phillips went to Madrid, to study the works of Velasquez, Murillo, Titian and VanDyke. During his two years' stay in that city, Mr. Phillips attracted much attention, his career being referred to in flattering terms, by Tuckerman, in his book entitled "American Artists." He afterward visited Italy, and passed a few weeks in Paris, returning to New York in 1854, and opening a studio on Broadway, in the same building occupied by George Inness and Arthur Tait, and afterward by James Hart.
In the winter of 1858—59, he was located in Cuba, and engaged in painting the portraits of Captain-General Concha and others, but the reports of yellow fever so alarmed Mrs. Phillips that her husband left all his work unfinished and departed for Key West. There he remained until May, when he returned to New York, painting, within the next two years, the portraits of such men as Governor King, of New York, William H. Seward, Thurlow Weed and Lieutenant Governor G. W. Patterson. The head of Dr. Bartelletti, which he exhibited in the National Academy of Design, was highly praised by fellow-artists and members of the press, many ranking it as the best in the exhibition. In the spring of 1861, he went to Montreal, to paint the portrait of Henry Moulson, for Magill College, and while there he was kept busy in painting portraits for many other celebrities.
While resting from his arduous labors, upon the advice of his physician, Mr. Phillips was tempted to invest his savings of many years in the famous "Oil Rock" well in Western Virginia. He continued in the business four years, lost all his money, and found himself in debt. Obliged to commence life anew, he next opened a studio in Chicago in 1868, and, through Mr. Tuckerman's book, found himself already well known. During this year he became a member of the Academy of Design, and has since been warmly attached to that institution.
Up to the time of the fire, his success was great, his portraits during that period numbering among the hundreds and embracing such distinguished persons as General Phil. H. Sheridan, Thomas Ewing, Wilbur F. Storey, of the Times, Mayor John B. Rice, Mahlon D. Ogden, Alfred Cowles, Robert Laird Collier, Louis and Christian Wahl, Mathew Laflin, Philo Carpenter and S. P. Rounds. He also painted President Blanchard, of Wheaton University, Christine Nilsson, Edwin Adams, the actor, James Robinson, the great circus rider, and Brigham Young. The three last-named portraits, and others not mentioned, were lost in the great fire, together with the links in the system of color upon which he had been studying for years, and valuable copies from Murillo, Velasquez, Titian and VanDyke.
Mr. Phillips also met with a loss in the second fire, but previously had painted portraits of many famous characters, such as John McCulloch, in the character of Richelieu, Stanley, the African explorer, and Rubinstein, the pianist, all of his work being taken from the living subjects. A call to Rochester followed, where he painted portraits of Bishop McQuaid, and others, and in New York City, of Colonel John Tappan, Mr. Francklyn, of the Cunard Line, and General Jones. It may be added also that the State of Colorado has had all her ex-governors painted by Mr. Phillips. Since coming to Chicago, in 1880, he has further added to his reputation by placing upon canvas likenesses of such men as John Wentworth, for the Historical Society, Cyrus H. McCormick, Erskine M. Phelps, John Allston and Dr. J. Adams Allen, for Rush Medical College. His latest portrait was that of John Norquay, premier of Manitoba. The above were from sittings. From photographs, he has painted the late Thomas Hoyne, for the Iroquois Club; Samuel Medill, for the Press Club, and ex-Mayor John B. Rice, for the Historical Society.
In fact, his portraits are scattered over many lands, and all give evidence of that thorough training and warm touch of life which have ever characterized his work."