Professor Lafayette B. Mendel 1931


Half portrait, side-view from the left, his bald head turned towards the viewer, looking directly at the viewer through a nose pincher with oval glasses, his hands folded over each other in front of his lower body. The portrayed wears a sparse moustache, a brown three-piece suit and a pink tie. In the left foreground a glass jar on a small table is shown, in which there are two white rats.

Oil on canvas 133 x 97 cm
Signature: John Quincy Ɑdams 1931.
Yale University, USA Inv.No. 1932.1738

Lafayette Benedict Mendel 5.2.1872 Dehli, NY to 9.12. 1935 New Haven, CT; biochemistry professor and co-discoverer of vitamin A, see also his entry on Wikipedia and the obituary by R.H. Chittenden (see Literature).
Lafayette B. Mendel was born in Dehli, New York State, the son of German immigrants. He had excellent learning success in his school years, which enabled him to attend Yale College on a state scholarship, entering at the age of 15 in 1887 and graduating with a B.A. with honors in 1891. On a scholarship, he then attended the Sheffield Scientific School associated with Yale, where he studied under Professor Russell H. Chittenden (who was also to write his obituary in 1936), graduating with a Ph.D. in 1893. Subsequently he was a lecturer, and in 1895-1896 he spent time in Germany (Breslau and Freiburg) for study purposes. Assistant Professor in 1897, he was appointed Professor of Physiological Chemistry at the Sheffield School in 1903. In 1921 he was finally appointed Sterling Professor of Physiological Chemistry and joint faculty member in the Yale Graduate School, the Yale Medical School, and the Sheffield School, a position he held until 1934.

In addition to his teaching, Prof. Mendel was primarily a researcher and scientist, authoring more than 300 publications during his career, including several in German. Many of these were in close collaboration with Yale colleagues and in particular (more than 100 publications) with Dr. Thomas B. Osborne (1859-1929) of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, with whom he investigated the influence of nutrition (especially proteins) on the growth and development of living organisms. The researchers used white albino rats (which Adams also portrayed as important "collaborators" in his portrait as well) as experimental research subjects. In their experiments, Mendel and Osborne found that some amino acids are essential for survival and must be obtained in the diet, with others being critical in the growth of young animals only. Growth was found to be dependent on previously unknown fat-soluble components in milk fat, substances that later became known as vitamin A. This discovery was published by the two scientists in 1913, contemporaneous (yet several weeks later) with identical work by biochemist Elmer Veron McCollum (1879-1967) and his colleague Marguerite Davis (1887-1967) of the University of Wisconsin. McCollum/Davis and Mendel/Osborne are therefore the co-discoverers of vitamin A. Subsequent research by Mendel and Osborne led to the identification of a precursor substance of vitamin A, later identified as ß-carotene. The research of the two scientists also included work on water-soluble vitamin B. In addition to his research and teaching, Lafayette B. Mendel also served on numerous scientific committees and institutions as well as of scientific journals, a contribution that was recognized in numerous awards (see Awards).

Lafayette B. Mendel was married to Alice R., née Friend, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, whom he married in 1917. The couple remained childless. He died in New Haven Hospital in 1935 after a two-year serious illness. His wife died a few weeks before his death, exhausted by the strain of her husband's illness and care. The Mendel residence in New Haven, where the couple lived 1900-1924, has been classified as a National Historic Landmark since 1976.

Awards Lafayette B. Mendel:
1913: Member of the National Academy of Sciences
Honorary doctorate from the University of Michigan
1925: Member of the Leopoldina.
1927: Gold Medal and Fellowship of the American Institute of Chemists
1930: Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Honorary doctorate from Rutgers University
1932: Honorary doctorate from Western Reserve University
Honored by the Adams Portrait, dedicated by Yale colleagues and students
1935: Conné Medal of the Chemist's Club of New York

The Adams Portrait of Prof. Mendel, painted in the fall of 1931, was a work for which Adams had been suggested by Yale professor Joseph Marshall Flint. It was commissioned as a tribute to the portrayed by colleagues and students, and was dedicated to the University in 1932 as a gift from “associates and students." Stylistically, the portrait is a characteristic late work of the artist with the typical abstract background structured only by expressionist brushstrokes. The portrait is especially captivating for one quaint detail: the depiction of Mendel's albino lab rats in the left foreground. The conservation condition of the painting is marred by a number of scratches, damage that will likely be prevented in the future by the current glazing. After his stay in New Haven, Adams traveled on to Boston, where he produced a number of other portraits of members of important families.


On permanent display Dean’s Hallway, Yale Medical School, New Haven.


1932 gift by associates and students to Yale University, USA, Inv.Nr. 1932.1738.