Adolfo Müller-Ury

Adolfo Müller-Ury, circa 1900

Adolfo Müller-Ury, KSG (March 29, 1862 – July 6, 1947) was a Swiss-born American portrait painter and impressionistic painter of roses and still life.

Heritage and early life in Switzerland

He was born Felice Adolfo Müller on March 29, 1862 at Airolo, Switzerland to a prominent patrician family who descended from the von Rechburg family (a lady from which family married a Müller) and by the 18th and 19th centuries included mercenaries, lawyers, hoteliers and businessmen.[1]

Adolfo was the sixth of nineteen children, most of whom survived infancy, born to Roman Catholic parents: Carl Alois Müller (1825–1887), a lawyer, was Gerichtspräsident (Presiding Judge) of the Cantonal Courts, and Genovefa (née Lombardi; 1836–1920), daughter of Felice Lombardi, Director of the Hospice on the St Gotthard Pass, which he took over from the Capuchin monks who had run it for centuries. The family spoke Airolese mainly, a local dialect of Ticinese Italian, as well as Swiss-German.

Training in Switzerland, Munich, Rome and Paris

After attending the municipal drawing school in the Ticino, and school in Sarnen he was encouraged by the sculptor Vincenzo Vela (1820–1891) and possibly the Commendatore Metalli-Stresa (a family friend), to study oil painting under the local painter of religious pictures in a Nazarene-style, Melchior Paul von Deschwanden in Stans in Switzerland (who died in Adolfo's arms in February 1881). On April 25, 1881, he entered the Munich Academy (Register No: 3945)[2] where he stayed 18 months, studying with Professors Alexander Strähuber (1814–82), Alois Gabl (1845–93), Gyula Benczur (1844–1920), and possibly Karl von Piloty; on the same day, a fellow Swiss called Adalbert Baggenstos (1863–97), who originated from Stans, also registered at the Munich Academy.[3]

Between Munich and Paris he spent nearly two years (1882–84) in Rome, studying and copying Old Masters, apparently at the instigation of the distinguished Ticinese-born artist Antonio Ciseri (1821-1891), and where he apparently painted portraits of Cardinals Joseph Hergenröther and Gustav Adolf Hohenlohe who were acquaintances of his uncle Josef, a Domherr in Chur, Switzerland. His known early work is necessarily varied, and includes pictures in the style of Deschwanden (usually signed Müller, Adolfo), academic drawings executed in Munich (usually signed Ad. Müller), copies of Old Masters, and early independent oils, sometimes was influenced by artist's like Robert Zünd (1827–1909) and Frank Buchser (1828–1890) which includes landscapes, genre and religious pictures. Many of these survive in the ancestral home of the Müllers in Hospental, Switzerland, and with surviving members of his family in the St Gotthard and elsewhere.

Early career

Whilst in Paris in late 1884 he decided to visit America. He arrived first in Milwaukee, and then visited Chicago and St Paul, Minnesota where he had relatives. In 1885 he went to Baltimore to paint James Cardinal Gibbons for the first time and in 1886 completed a full-length portrait which was given to the Cardinal for his residence after being exhibited at Schaus's Gallery in New York (missing). At around this time he was travelling all over the eastern United States painting and executed a very large canvas of the Bushkill Falls in Pennsylvania (Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal, Germany).[4] Luckily for the artist, his talent for portraiture was soon noticed by the St. Paul railroad builder James J. Hill, who was to commission or acquire many pictures of himself, his family, his friends and business associates, like the Canadian missionary Father Albert Lacombe in 1895, and John Stewart Kennedy the financier in 1901.

In the Newark Museum, New Jersey is a portrait of a little girl dressed in pink called Miss Brandeis which is probably his first commissioned picture made in America (it is signed with a variation of his family name, A. Lombardi-Muller), though a portrait of Father Joseph Fransioli, who was minister to the large influx of Italian-speaking immigrants arriving in New York, today at the Brooklyn Historical Society, was possibly completed before this as it is signed Adolph Muller. It would seem that from quite early on he wanted to sign his works in a way that was unique to him, and so portraits between 1886 and 1889 are sometimes signed F. Adolphus Muller, A. Muller-Uri, or Muller d'Uri. By 1890 this was fully anglicized as A. Muller-Ury, the umlaut in his surname being dropped. Some of his later smaller works are signed A M Ury. (It should be noted that as late as 1932, the Swiss-American Historical Society published a book on Swiss-Americans where his name was inaccurately stated as Adolph Felix Muller-Uri.) In 1889 he painted a portrait of John R. Brady a New York Judge which was apparently presented to the American Bar Association. He may have travelled in North Africa in the summer of 1889 after visiting the Exposition Universelle as he dated a Portrait of a North African man with a Gun (previously known as Portrait of an Arab; Private Collection, London) that year and exhibited a picture called In the Dark Continent at the National Academy of Design in New York at the end of that year (No. 105; lost). In 1890 he completed a second bust-length portrait of Father Joseph Fransioli of Brooklyn (lost).

His New York studio 1885-1904 was in the Sherwood Studio Building, 58 West 57th Street and 6th Avenue (the building has been long demolished), where he is noted before 1889 in Room C; by 1894 he had a studio with a waiting room (both lit by windows) and a bedroom. Other artists who rented studios in the building in the 1880s were his friend from Munich, Jan Chełmiński (who later married the sister of art dealer Roland Knoedler), landscape painter Robert W. Van Boskerck, James Carroll Beckwith, painter and muralist Edwin Howland Blashfield, and painter turned critic Arthur Hoeber, and later artists such as Carle Blenner and portraitist George Burroughs Torrey.[5] He was photographed in his Sherwood studio by artist turned photographer Edwin Scott Bennett (1847-1915) which was exhibited at the annual exhibition of the Society of Amateur Photographers of New York in 1894.[6]

For a number of years he commuted between New York and Europe. In 1892, after the great success of his portraits of Senator Chauncey Depew in 1890 (Yale Club of New York City) and Mrs Theodore Havemeyer in 1891 (now the property of the Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island), he applied for United States citizenship. It was apparently at this date that he met the young art dealer Joseph Duveen, who was to become a close friend, and after 1891 that he began to be dubbed 'Painter to the Four Hundred', referring the élite of New York society in whose circles he socialized. He was much aided by the Havemeyers, and also by Louis Benziger (1840-1896), a Roman Catholic publisher (Benziger Brothers), who persuaded many New Yorkers to sit to him; he remained friendly with his son Bruno Benziger until his death, and indeed Bruno Benziger organized the artist's burial.[7]

For three years in the late 1890s he leased one of the studios in Pembroke Studios in Kensington, London,[8] where he certainly painted portraits of Donald Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal, and Lord Mount Stephen who were business associates of James J. Hill, of whom he made an etching in London in 1898 which was distributed to Hill's family and colleagues. According to a letter he wrote to Hill he started the portrait of Consuelo Yznaga, the 8th Duchess of Manchester, in London in 1898, but it is not known if it was ever completed. In 1903 he was one of a group of artists who invested in a new studio building, the Atelier Building, 33 West 67th Street. Muller-Ury lived in the top floor right studio, and incorporated a stained glass panel of the Müller coat-of-arms into the window (removed in 1947 and now at the Haus Müller in Hospental, Switzerland). The floors were all inlaid with borders of intarsia, and the smaller windows given mullions. He moved into the studio in 1904 and remained there until 1947.[9]

Painter of prominent people

Müller-Ury's 1909 portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm II

Political figures:

Several Swiss politicians who became Presidents:

He also painted the first permanent diplomatic representative of Switzerland in the United Kingdom, then Swiss Minister in London, Dr Charles Daniel Bourcart of Basel (now at the Swiss Embassy in London).

The Roman Catholic Hierarchy:

Famous international opera singers:

Popular actresses:

Other sitters include:

Painter of roses and still lifes

In 1896 A Boston newspaper reported that, ‘... Mr. Müller-Ury, the portrait painter, who has just returned from abroad, has taken an attractive studio in Everett street, Newport, the one occupied by Mr. Harper Pennington last season. Mr. Müller-Ury’s roses as well as his portraits are admired, and he is painting a huge basket of American Beauties for the Havemeyer villa.’[24]

In a surviving photograph of the artist’s studio in the Sherwood taken in 1894 (a portrait of Monsignor Satolli is on the easel next to it) there is huge still life, and in a letter from his studio to James J. Hill dated 12 August 1895 (Hill Papers, St. Paul, MN) he says that he hopes that the 'flower peace [sic]' he sent to him 'will suit for the place intended for', further evidence that he had painted some still lifes before 1896.

After 1918 the style of his still lifes becomes more impressionistic, the technique more painterly and using a great deal of impasto, and usually depict roses in Chinese vases from the former collection of J. Pierpont Morgan that he copied at the galleries of Duveen Brothers in New York (Duveen's exhibited the Morgan collection in 1919) and elsewhere, and sometimes including depictions of other works of art like bronze or bisque statuettes, Chinese porcelain Buddhas, Italian Maiolica plates and so on. It is known he was an admirer of Claude Monet and others, as he told the German Kaiser - who hated the Impressionists - in 1909 that the impressionists had "done a great deal to awaken modern art."[25]

The roses were claimed by the soprano Jessica Dragonette in her autobiography to be the varieties American Beauty (red), La France (pink), Belle of Portugal (pale pink), Claudius, Killarney (rose pink), and Boucher-Pierné, but there were others.[26] Many of his impressionistic rose paintings were created after he moved to California.

Californian sojourn

In March 1922 he travelled with Sir Joseph Duveen (later Lord Duveen) to California for the first time, in order that Duveen could deliver to bibliophile and art collector Henry E. Huntington Gainsborough's famous picture The Blue Boy which Huntington had bought the previous year. Duveen had promised the artist that Huntington would commission a portrait of himself. He did not.[27]

Müller-Ury liked California and after painting Archbishop Edward Joseph Hanna in San Francisco in 1923 decided the following year to erect a studio near Huntington's estate. The studio he built was at the corner of Monterey and Shenandoah Roads in San Marino (architect Carleton Winslow), in the fashionable Spanish style with a green tiled roof and in the studio an enormous north-facing window. He placed the Muller coat-of-arms on the east frontage, where it may be found today. The gardens were extensively planted with many varieties of roses including Radiance, Columbia, Rose Marie, Irish Charm, Imperial Potentate and American Beauty which he painted into his canvases depicting the Morgan porcelains begun in New York. Duveen built a bungalow next door to the artist on Shenandoah Road, but seems to have quickly sold it after the death of his client Henry E. Huntington in 1927.

It was in San Marino during the following years, that Muller-Ury executed portraits of the following sitters:

In 1926, Müller-Ury seems to have begun from a photograph a portrait of Henry E. Huntington standing (now at the Howard Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena) and a seated one (which was engraved by Witherspoon) as well as another smaller seated version which was acquired by John and Elizabeth Huntington Metcalf; his portrait of their daughter Mary Brockway Metcalf was for some years hanging in the lobby to the office of the Director of the Huntington Library.

In 1930, Müller-Ury painted the former Miss Gladys Quarré of San Francisco (then Mrs Frederick Peabody of Montecito, Santa Barbara); later she became known as Gladys Quarré Knapp, a socialite and friend of many Hollywood actors. He also painted a large allegorical work entitled The Spirit of California a version of which was acquired by a prominent art collector called Fred Elbridge Keeler (lost). Müller-Ury abandoned the studio for the last time on September 3, 1933, after which it was let to friends. The house was apparently used by the Red Cross during the Second World War. He sold it in January 1947 for about half its value because nobody was prepared at that time to buy a property where most rooms were comparatively small except for the enormous studio.

Last years

After his return from California he settled permanently back in his New York studio. In 1936 he travelled to Europe and he may have done so in 1937 and certainly in 1938 when he painted a large portrait of President Motta of Switzerland, for his home town of Bellinzona (Archivio Cantonale). In 1937 he painted a portrait of Ellen Dunlap Hopkins, founder of the New York School of Applied Design for Women which he presented to the School in 1938 (Private collection, Brooklyn). He painted Pope Pius XII in 1936 during his visit to the United States when still Cardinal Pacelli, only finishing the work in 1939 (by painting in the white robes after his election to the pontificate), and painted his friend Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York twice in 1940 (St Joseph's Seminary, Yonkers) one version being presented by Manhattan College to Fordham University in 1941 (who appear to have lost the work),[28] and again in 1942; he also painted Archbishop Joseph Rummell of New Orleans (1943).

In 1940, he painted the then famous radio soprano Jessica Dragonette (Georgian Court College, New Jersey) and several times thereafter, his last portrait in 1946 depicting her bust-length in a gold fez. In 1941 he produced a portrait of her sister Rosalinda (always called Nadea) Loftus looking over her shoulder. He also painted Dragonette's colleague Fred Mitchell, and several portraits of her friends and acquaintances. In 1942, at age 80, he painted a three quarter length seated portrait of Mrs George H. Ingalls (née Katharine Davis Hinkle), whose late husband, a descendant of one of the founder families of America who had left Lincolnshire in 1628, had been a Vice-President of the New York Central Railroad.


Müller-Ury died, apparently of cancer, on July 6, 1947 at the Lenox Hill Hospital, New York and is buried in New Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York, where his gravestone is marked simply, if incorrectly, 'ADOLPH MULLER-URY 1862-1947'.[29]

On Thursday, July 10, 1947 a Requiem Mass was held for the artist in St. Patrick's Cathedral. After his death his youngest brother Otto Müller travelled to New York to settle his estate. Most of his studio contents, and a good many of his pictures, were sold in two sales at the Plaza Art Galleries, 28 and 29 November 1947 (No. 2809) and 5 December 1947 (No. 2813), including his oil sketch of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and the portrait of Lina Cavalieri. The Frick Art Reference Library, New York, has a copy of both catalogues, where the prices for his pictures are marked; three extra lots were included in the second sale.


Müller-Ury exhibited single pictures and groups of pictures in the following venues (the list is not exhaustive):


The largest public collections of his works are: The Historisches Museum von Uri, Altdorf, Switzerland which has ten pictures, including a large allegorical work painted in 1888 called Alpenrose und Edelweiss, and portraits of his father and his uncle (all three donated by him in 1905 when the Museum was first opened).

The Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island, who were given six of the portraits and two etchings by Muller-Ury in the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming in Laramie in 2007 to add to the six they already possessed five of which are of the Havemeyer family (this collection included Governor Merriam of St Paul as well as his etchings of railroad builder James J. Hill and Senator Chauncey Depew and was donated to Wyoming by Nicholas M. Turner, husband of the soprano Jessica Dragonette, who at one time owned nearly forty pictures by the artist many bought at his studio sale in 1947).[31] They also acquired from Wyoming the artist's hands modelled by Gertrude Colburn (died 1968).

The National Portrait Gallery in Washington has nine portraits, including President William McKinley, General Henry Clarke Corbin, James J. Hill, the two etchings of James J. Hill and Chauncey Depew, and two oils that the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming in Laramie gave them in 2007 from the Dragonette Collection: a Self-portrait and a portrait of steel titan Charles M. Schwab. In 2009 they acquired a drawing of Anaconda Copper Mining Millionaire Marcus Daly.

The New York State Museum at Albany contains six portraits, five of which were in the former New York Chamber of Commerce: Theodore Havemeyer, Oswald Ottendorfer, James Constable, William 'Boyce' Thompson, and Benjamin Altman. Much of his work remains in private collections or with the descendents of his sitters, and many of the portraits of his most famous sitters are apparently lost. However, his recently rediscovered 1923 portrait of his great friend Sir Joseph Duveen, the art dealer, has been recently widely reproduced, notably on the cover of the 2004 biography of Duveen by Meryle Secrest; it was subsequently sold at TEFAF Maastricht in 2006 for $95,000.[32]

Hildegarde Muller-Uri

Hildegarde Muller-Uri (born 1894, Greenwich Village, New York City – died 1990) - actually born Hildegarde Petronella Bernhardina Muller - an American visual artist, was a relative, and in fact a third cousin, of Müller-Ury. She was the eldest daughter of amateur artist Henry Muller and his wife Wihelmina, both of whom were of course natives of Canton Uri in Switzerland.[33] Henry Muller had moved from New York to San Augustine in around 1898 to work as a chef in one of Henry Flagler's hotels, and later became to builder and owner of the Hotel Marion at 128 Bay Street.[34] She studied first with Hugh H. Breckinridge (1870-1937) at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and at the Breckenridge Art School in East Gloucester, Massachusetts between 1925 and 1930, and later at the Art Students League with Frank Vincent Dumond (1865-1951) and possibly with Olinsky, Lewis, and others.[35] She exhibited at the Society of Independent Artists 1929 to 1931.[36]

She founded and directed the Galleon Art School in San Augustine in 1925, but this was more a club for artists than a school,[37] so by 1931 she founded the San Augustine Arts Club, where she proved herself a capable arts administrator; she was producing much art of her own in these years and by May 1933 she was able to exhibit a large number of her impressionist paintings, woodcuts of San Augustine, and etchings, at the Woman's Club of Charlotte, North Carolina, in May 1933. By 1937 she had become interested in portraiture and studied again with Wayman Adams (1883-1959) and at some point with his teacher Jossey Bilan.[38] She served as president of the San Augustine Art Association in 1947-1948, and was to be president and treasurer of the Florida Association of Art. Her parents were major patrons of the Arts Club and, in fact, assisted the club by selling them land they owned bordering Marine, Charlotte and Cadiz Streets at a below-market price.[39] They then loaned the Arts Club the money to erect a building, essentially designed by Hildegarde Muller-Uri and her father, which was completed in 1954.[40]

Muller-Uri's work includes stained glass, etchings, illustrations, woodblock prints and linoleum cuts of city scenes and historic buildings in Florida. In 1955 she was working on a book with twenty-two woodcuts called St. Augustine in Woodcuts.[41] She died in 1990 and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery. Several of her works have been sold at auction, including St. Augustine Street Scene depicting a Black Woman Outside a St. Augustine House (sold 2013).[42]


  1. Schweizerisches Geschlechterbuch, Bd. 1, 1904, pp. 326-336. A MSS notebook Das urnerisch Geschlecht Müller, with much detailed information on the history of the family, survives at the Adolfo Müller-Ury Stiftung, Hospental, Switzerland.
  4. Uta Laxner-Gerlach, Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal. Katalog der Gemalde des 19. Jahrhunderts, Wuppertal, 1974, pp. 152-153 (illustrated); the artist is cited as 'Adolf Muller'.
  5. John Davis, Our United Happy Family: 'Artists in the Sherwood Studio Building 1880-1900', Archives of American Art Journal, Vol. 36, No. 3/4, (1996) pp.2-19.
  6. An artist turned photographer of artists: Edwin Scott Bennett (1847-1915) is the subject of a forthcoming article by Dr Carole Lowrey.
  7. Benziger was one of the executors of the artist's Will, the other being the Swiss Consul-General in New York, but Benziger's name is on the receipt for the burial plot in Calvary Cemetery (Muller Family Papers).
  8. The Royal Blue Book: Fashionable Directory and Parliamentary Guide, London 1899, p. 1108, says Muller-Ury occupied No. 9. This had formerly been the studio of Pre-Raphaelite painter Herbert Draper.
  9. 'Some Interesting Studio Apartments in the Atelier Building', Architectural Record, No. 21, (May 1907) pp. 385–88.
  10. For the history of the commission see: Conrad (2003).
  11. Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, (New York, pb, 1980), p. 21.
  12. Letter from Cardinal Cerretti to Müller-Ury, November 16, 1930, sent c/o Duveen Brother, New York (Muller Family Papers; copy letter in Los Angeles Archdiocesan archives)
  13. American Art News, Vol. XXIII, No. 28, 1925, p. 1, reproduces the canvas as originally completed.
  14. American Art News, Vol. 8, No. 23, New York, March 19, 1910, p. 3.
  15. Art Interchange, February 1903
  16. Metropolitan Magazine, Vol. XXV, No. 1, October 5, 1906 (reproduced)
  17. The Brooklyn Eagle, April 6, 1913 describes this portrait: 'One of the most attractive canvases is one of the simplest in device...The scheme is one of brown and white, with greenish-gray background.'
  18. Alice Winchester, Living with Antiques: a treasury of private homes in America, 1963, p. 143; Newark Museum Catalogue 1981.
  19. The Social Truth, Saturday, April 23, 1892.
  20. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-12-31.
  21. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York, Sunday, April 5, 1903 p. 6, (reproduced)
  22. Brooklyn Eagle, June 29, 1902 (reproduced)
  23. Baltimore Sun, May 25, 1889
  24. Budget, Boston, August 2, 1896.
  25. New York American, November 28, 1909, Part II Main Sheet, p. 1.
  26. Dragonette (1951), p. 240
  27. Edward Fowles, Memories of Duveen Brothers: Seventy years in the art world (London, 1976), p. 148.
  28. New York Times, Sunday, February 23, 1941 (reproduced).
  29. The grave is located at Section 10, Plot 445, Grave No. 8.
  30. Paul Durand-Ruel, Memoirs of the First Impressionist Dealer (1831-1922), revised, corrected, and annotated by Paul-Louis Durand-Ruel and Flavie Durand-Ruel, Paris 2014, p.227, where the dates are not mentioned, Pissarro is stated as following, and the Renoir exhibition is omitted.
  31. Dragonette (1951), p. 301: 'His books, furniture, pictures, brocades and velvets with which he covered his portraits were carelessly thrown about. Dealers only interested in the handsome frames denuded the pictures. I bought whatever I could in friendship and admiration of the master.'
  32. See: Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts, Portraits and Other Recent Acquisitions (2006) pp.29-30, notice by Stephen Conrad.
  33. The most complete account of Hildegarde Muller-Uri's life and contribution is given in Torchia (2001), passim and specifically pp. 93–94.
  34. See entry in Clark S. Marlor, The Society of Independent Artists, The Exhibition Record 1917-1944, 1984, p. 406 where she is listed as resident at the Hotel in 1929
  35. Torchia (2001), p. 93, footnote 1, points out that precise source information available on her early training is actually confused.
  36. Marlor, loc. cit., states she exhibited 'Still Life' in 1929 (No. 518a), and in 1931 two paintings without titles (Nos. 691 and 692).
  37. Torchia (2001), p. 10
  38. Torchia (2001), p. 93
  39. Torchia (2001), p. 27
  40. A photograph of the model for the Arts Center they designed is reproduced on p. 34 (fig. 19) of Torchia (2001).
  41. Torchia (2001), p. 94
  42. Hildegarde Muller-Uri brief description,; accessed March 23, 2015.


  • Conrad, Stephen (2003). "Re-introducing Adolfo Müller-Ury (1862–1947): the artist, two dealers, four counts and the Kaiser: a hitherto unknown episode in international art history". The British Art Journal. 4 (2): 57–65. JSTOR 41614461. 
  • Dragonette, Jessica (1951). Faith is a Song: the Odyssey of an American Artist. New York: McKay. 
  • Torchia, Robert W. (2001). Lost Colony: the Artists of St. Augustine 1930-1950. The Lightner Museum. 

Further reading

External links

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