Charles Francis Adams 1931

Half portrait, standing, in side view, his left arm resting on an armchair rest. The sitter is bald and wears a brown three-piece suit, white shirt and a beige-blue tie. In the background of the picture a light brown wall and a dark brown curtain which is gathered back is shown, opening the view to a seascape with a cloudy sky glowing in the evening red.

JQAW# P_1931_050
Oil on canvas 127 x 84 cm
Signature: John Quincy Ɑdams 1931.
Naval Historical Center, Washington D.C. USA, 43-035-A
Image: courtesy Navy Art Collection, Naval History and Heritage Command.

Charles Francis Adams III, 2.8.1866 Quincy to 11.6.1954 Boston, 44th U.S. Secretary of the Navy and avid sailor.
Charles Francis Adams was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on Aug. 2, 1866. He was the grandson of John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), the sixth U.S. president (1825-1829), and the great-grandson of John Adams (1735-1826), the second U.S. president (1797-1801). Adams earned his bachelor's degree cum laude in 1888 and his law degree in 1892 from Harvard University. Before studying law in Boston and passing the bar in 1893, he traveled throughout Europe. Adams then practiced law in Boston. In 1893 he was elected to the Quincy City Council, and in 1896 he became mayor, a post he held for two terms. In 1898 he was elected treasurer of Harvard University and in that capacity substantially increased the university's trust fund. He also held interests in numerous businesses. Adams was a noted sailor. In 1914, as skipper of the boat Resolute, he won the America's Cup; he repeated that victory in 1920. In 1939, he won the King's Cup, the Astor Cup, and the Puritan Cup, a feat never before achieved.

In 1929, President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) appointed Adams as the 44th Secretary of the Navy, an office he served in until 1933. Secretary Adams instituted a naval construction program to bring the U.S. Navy up to the level of other naval powers, particularly Great Britain, and he called for an increase in the Navy's budget. During the years of his administration, however, the Great Depression worsened, and Congress did not provide the funds he requested. Adams played an important role at the 1930 London Naval Conference, where he advocated a balance between U.S. naval strength and that of Britain and Japan. When Hoover lost his bid for re-election, Adams returned to private life, re-entered the business world and continued yachting. He died in Boston on June 11, 1954 and is buried in the Mount Wollaston Cemetery in Quincy.

In 1899, Charles Francis Adams III married Frances Lovering (1896-1956), the daughter of Congressman William C. Lovering (1835-1910). Their son Charles Francis Adams IV (1910-1999) became the first president of the defense contractor Raytheon Company. Their daughter Catherine Adams Morgan (1902-1988, see her 1932 Adams portrait) was married to banker Henry Sturgis Morgan Sr. (1900-1982, see his 1932 Adams portrait), grandson of John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913).

Honors: in 1932 Adams was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Charles Francis Adams Memorial Trophy for sailing athletes is named after him. The destroyer U.S.S. Charles Francis Adams also bears his name.

The portrait of Charles Francis Adams III, painted in Washington D.C. in 1931, represents a high point in Adams' painting career in the United States. Not only was the commission to portray the Secretary of the Navy and (very) distant relative (and sailing colleague) honorable, it was also an opportunity to present his mature late style to the American public. Accordingly, the picture is very carefully composed. The sitter is depicted in side view and, together with the gathered curtain in the background of the picture, forms a pictorial diagonal that directs the viewer's gaze to the sea visible through a window in the background, thus figuratively expressing the sitter's position. The painting is equally captivating in its consistent use of the Whistler-inspired tone-on-tone concept, in the present case using various shades of brown. As a counterpoint, Adams uses sparse blue color accents (tie stripes, ocean waves, sky above dense clouds). In keeping with the important occasion, Adams also took a photographer to the portrait session, a photograph of which has been preserved in the Künstlerhaus archive (see cross-references). The painting is part of the US Navy art collection and is currently displayed in the US Department of Defense, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Therefore it is not accessible to the public, which lends its publication in this catalog all the greater documentary significance. Adams also portrayed the sitter's daughter and son-in-law in 1932 (see cross-references).


Exhibited in: Pentagon, Washington D.C. (not publicly accessible)



1931 from artist to US Navy,
Naval Historical Center, Washington D.C. USA, 43-035-A.