George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882), Class of 1820
Oil on canvas
Bequest of Mrs. George Perkins Marsh; P.901.4
Lawyer, diplomat, and author George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882) was one of the pioneers of the American conservation movement. Born in Woodstock, Vermont, he practiced law in Burlington after graduating from Dartmouth in 1820. He later served in Congress from 1842 to 1849 and held diplomatic posts as minister to Turkey and Italy. Although a brilliant scholar in many fields, he is probably best remembered for his influential book Man and Nature; or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action (1864), in which he cautioned: “Man has too long forgotten that the earth was given to him for usufruct alone, not for consumption, still less for profligate waste.” Marsh also built an extensive collection of European prints that was the first art purchased by the Smithsonian. A portraitist of international renown who resided for long periods in France, George Peter Alexander Healy painted this likeness for the sitter while the artist was in Washington, D.C., working on a series of American statesmen for the French king Louis Philippe. In his characteristically forthright manner, Healy presents a reticent, slightly disheveled Marsh, who sports the longer locks and wide, unwieldy cravat fashionable in the 1840s. His direct, bespectacled gaze suggests Marsh’s intelligence as well as, perhaps, his sympathy for the artist, who became a lifelong friend.
Last Updated: 5/13/09