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From the Collection: Portrait of Frances Katherine Drexel

November 3, 2011

Welcome to the new From the Collection series, where each month we dive in to the treasures of The Drexel Collection , which includes decorative arts, prints, drawings, textiles, an 18th-century David Rittenhouse clock, 19th-century paintings and much more.

This month we feature a portrait of Frances Katherine Drexel, by Philadelphia artist Cecilia Beaux.

In 1893, Anthony J. Drexel commissioned famed Philadelphia artist Cecilia Beaux for a portrait of his second child, Frances Katherine Drexel Paul (1852-1892). This colorful portrait of “Fannie,” which was painted posthumously, is housed in The Drexel Collection.

 Frances Katherine Drexel

Fannie was named after Anthony’s parents, Francis Martin Drexel and Katherine Hookey Drexel. She was known for her artistic talents as an accomplished pianist and artist—there is an example of her landscape painting in The Drexel Collection.  Fannie was quite social, known to attend gatherings at the Academy of Music and was a bridesmaid for President Ulysses S. Grant’s daughter, Nellie, at the White House in 1874. 

Fannie married James W. Paul, Jr. (1851-1908) on December 6, 1877 in her parent’s home at 39th and Walnut Streets.  The witness for the marriage was financier, J. P. Morgan, a partner at Drexel & Co., the bank founded in 1838 by her grandfather, an artist-turned banker.  James W. Paul Jr. became a partner at the Drexel Bank and served until his death in 1908. 

It is not known how the couple met.  Their families were acquaintances for years, mostly through banking, prior to their marriage.  Francis Martin Drexel painted the portraits of James Paul’s ancestors, James and Elizabeth Rodman Paul, in the 1820s.

Fannie and James Paul had three children: Ellen Drexel Paul, Anthony J. Drexel Paul and Mary Astor Paul.    Anthony Drexel had houses built for his children near his home in West Philadelphia.  The Pauls lived at 3809 Locust Street (now the Sigma Chi House for the University of Pennsylvania.)  There are photographs of the home in The Drexel Collection that show the house decorated with art, including Fannie’s landscape painting.

At the age of 40, Fannie became ill with an unknown illness.  In May of 1892, Anthony Drexel took her to a health spa in Carlsbad, now Bohemia, with hopes that the waters would save her.  She died there on June 16, 1892.

Cecilia Beaux also painted a portrait of Anthony Drexel’s wife, Ellen, in 1892, also posthumously.

This vibrant portrayal of Fannie Drexel Paul demonstrates Cecilia Beaux’s skill to convey the character and personality of the sitter as well as infuse the portrait with a style that is colorful and fluid. 

 ---Jacqueline DeGroff, Curator of The Drexel Collection