Adolfo Müller-Ury

Adolfo Müller-Ury

Adolfo Müller-Ury (1862-1947) was a Swiss-born American portrait painter and impressionistic still-life painter. He was born Felice Adolfo Müller on March 29 1862 at Airolo, in the Ticino in Switzerland, into a prominent patrician family whose lineage descended from Alfred the Great, Charlemagne and Doge Pietro Orseolo of Venice, through the von Rechburg family (a lady from which married a Müller) and by the 18th and 19th centuries included mercenaries, lawyers, hoteliers and businessmen. His father was lawyer Carl Alois Müller (1825-1887) and his mother Genovefa Lombardi (1836-1920), daughter of Felice Lombardi who was Director of the Hospice on the St Gotthard Pass. He was their sixth of nineteen children, most of whom survived infancy. His family were Roman Catholic. He 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'

witzerland, Munich, Rome and Paris

After attending the municipal drawing school in the Ticino, he was encouraged by the sculptor Vincenzo Vela (1820-1891) and the Commendatore Metalli-Stresa to study oil painting under Melchior-Paul von Deschwanden in Stans in Switzerland (who died in Adolfo's arms in February 1881), and then went to the Munich Academy from 1881-1882, studying with the Hungarian painter Gyula Benczur and Karl von Piloty amongst other teachers, and possibly the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, under Alexandre Cabanel in 1884. Between Munich and Paris he spent nearly two years (1882-84) in Rome, studying and copying Old Masters, and where he painted portraits of Cardinals Joseph Hergenröther and Gustav Adolf Hohenlohe who were acquaintances of his uncle Josef, a Domherr in Chur, Switzerland.

His early work is necessarily varied, and amongst the academic drawings executed in Munich (usually signed Ad. Müller), copies of Old Masters, and early independent oils, includes several 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 he decided to visit America in 1884. He arrived first in Milwaukee, and then visited Chicago and St Paul, Minnesota where he had relatives. Luckily for the artist, his talent for portraiture was noticed by the St. Paul railroad builder James J. Hill, who was to commission many pictures of himself and his family. In 1885 he went to Baltimore to paint Cardinal James 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).

In the Newark Museum, New Jersey is a portrait of a little girl dressed in pink called Miss Brandeis which is probably his first picture made in America (it is signed with a variation of his family name, A. Lombardi-Muller). His portraits between 1886 and 1889 are sometimes signed A. Müller-Uri, or Müller d'Uri, which by 1890 was fully anglicized as A. Müller-Ury.

For a number of years he commuted between New York and Europe, but after the great success of his portraits of Senator Chauncey M. Depew in 1890 (missing) and Mrs Theodore Havemeyer in 1891 (now the property of the Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island), in 1892 applied for American citizenship. It was at this time that he began to be dubbed 'Painter to the Four Hundred', referring the elite of New York society in whose circles he socialized. He was much aided by the Havemeyers and also by the Roman Catholic publisher Louis Benziger, 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.

For three years in the late 1890s he leased one of the studios in Pembroke Studios in Kensington, London 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.

Painter of Prominent People

He reputation remains based on his portraits of prominent personages in Europe and America.

These include:

Emperor William II (1909, at the New Palace, Potsdam) given to Columbia University's Deutsches Haus by the Neue-Yorker Staats Zeitung who commissioned it, but missing since the 1960s; the bust-length oil sketch is now at the Max-Planck Institute in Berlin.

President William McKinley seated in 1899, the standing version (1900 redated 1901)is now at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington; General Ulysses S. Grant since 1899 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, Varina Howell (Mrs Jefferson Davis) in 1895 (Beauvoir, Biloxi, Mississippi) and her daughter Winnie Davis in 1897-8 (Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia, gift of the artist 1918); Theodore Roosevelt (collection of Edmund Morris); Mrs. Woodrow Wilson (1916) now at the White House; Mrs Edward House; President Wilson delivering his "war speech" before Congress on April 3 1917 (at the League of Nations in Geneva, the gift of Lord Duveen in 1935); and Benjamin Harrison's granddaughter Mary Lodge McKee Reisinger.

Several Swiss politicians who became Presidents, Louis Ruchonnet, Bernhard Hammer, and in the late 1930s Giuseppe Motta. He also painted the first permanent diplomatic representative of Switzerland in the United Kingdom, Dr Charles Daniel Bourcart (now at the Swiss Embassy in London). He also painted a Swiss millionaire who had made a fortune in Buenos Aires, Bernasconi Corti and his wife.

The first pope he painted was Pope Pius X in 1907 (North American College, Rome) which was a commission from Mrs Anne Walker of Philadelphia, 1908 (St Joseph's Seminary, Yonkers) and 1911 (Catholic University of America, Washington) all three-quarters seated; Papal Secretary of State Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val in 1907 (Historisches Museum von Uri, Altdorf); Monsignor Bisletti; Francesco Satolli (Cardinal Satolli) first Papal Nuncio in the United States; Désiré-Joseph Mercier (Cardinal Mercier) during his visit to the United States often misleadingly stated to be at Catholic University at Washington but actually in Switzerland at the Stiftung Adolfo Müller-Ury in Hospental, Canton Uri; Pope Benedict XV in 1920 (Catholic University of America, Washington); Monsignor Charles O'Hern (North American College, Rome); Pope Pius XI in 1923 for which he was made a Knight of St Gregory the Great (two versions, the bust-length at St Joseph's Seminary, Yonkers and North American College, Rome; the standing version at the Historisches Museum von Uri, Altdorf [but dated later] ), and full-length seated in 1930 for which he was raised to the title of Papal Count - this portrait was painted expressly to hang permanently in the foyer of the Nuova Pinacoteca but is no longer in the Vatican storerooms - and that same year he also painted in Rome his friend Cardinal Bonaventura Cerretti. Cardinal John Murphy Farley(1913); Cardinal Patrick Hayes (1924, cut down, Cardinal's Residence, NYC). He painted Pope Pius XII in 1936 when still Cardinal Pacelli, only finishing the work in 1939, and painted Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York in 1940 (St Joseph's Seminary, Yonkers) and again in 1942; Archbishop Joseph Rummell of New Orleans (1943).

Famous international opera singers Emma Calvé, Marcella Sembrich (twice), Pol Plançon, Lina Cavalieri (Metropolitan Opera House, New York), Dame Nellie Melba(1908) and Frances Alda (1910); and popular actresses Lillian Russell (1902), and Margaret Illington (1906) at the time of her first marriage to the theatre manager Daniel Frohman; and in 1940, in his late style, the radio soprano Jessica Dragonette (Georgian Court School, New Jersey).

John S. Kennedy, the financier; William R. Merriam of St. Paul (Minnesota Historical Society);Charles Mather Ffoulke, manufacturer and collector of the Barberini tapestries; Oswald Ottendorfer of the "Neue-Yorker Staats Zeitung" twice;
William d'Alton Mann the editor of "Town Topics"; Senator and Mrs. Chauncey M. Depew (Mr. Depew was also etched);
J. Pierpont Morgan some eight times from 1904 (all missing), and with his granddaughter Mabel Satterlee;
James J. Hill the finest portrait of whom he painted in 1902 and was formerly in the collection of the New York Chamber of Commerce and now hangs at the offices of Credit Suisse First Boston in New York; Benjamin Altman, department store owner and art collector (the portrait of Altman seated in his gallery with a vase on a table beside him was given to the Altman Foundation in 1913 but is now missing - a smaller portrait is in the New York State Museum at Albany); James Constable (two versions, three-quarter seated in the American Museum of Natural History, New York; a bust-length in the New York State Museum at Albany);Michael Friedsam, department store owner and art collector; Commodore Elbridge T. Gerry (New York Yacht Club);
Marcus Alonzo Hanna (1902/3, Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio); Jesse Maxwell Overton and his wife Sadie Williams Overton of Nashville, TN (1903); William Henry White (Lotos Club, New York); William Weightman (manufacturing chemist, posthumously) of Philadelphia, and his daughter Mrs Anne Walker with her niece;
George Lockhart Rives (1915, Columbia University); Judge Alton Brooks Parker (two versions); Mrs Edward House;
Thomas Watt Gregory, US Attorney General 1917 (Department of Justice, Washington);
Charles Evans Hughes US Chief Justice (Michigan Historical Museum, Lansing); Judge Morgan O'Brien; Mrs Thomas B. Lockwood [posthumously 1934] and somewhat earlier her mother Mrs George K. Birge (Poetry/Rare Book Collection, State University of New York at Buffalo); Charles F. Hoffman (Union Club, New York); Marcus Daly, the copper magnate; Lewis Nixon, naval constructor - also a full-length of his son Stanhope in Scottish costume; Senator Charles Whitman (New York State Capitol at Albany); Miss Olive Whitman (Preservation Society, Newport); Mrs Frederick Neilson, the former Cathleen Vanderbilt; Mrs. Hobart Chatfield-Taylor, wife of a popular novelist; Mr and Mrs Henri P. Wertheim; Margaret French Cresson, the sculptress daughter of Daniel Chester French (formerly at Chesterwood); Mr and Mrs William Scheide and Mr and Mrs John H. Scheide (apparently in Princeton, New Jersey); and a full-length of Dorothy Duveen as a girl in 1914 and another bust-length at the time of her engagement in 1924.

Elizabeth Drexel Dahlgren (Georgetown University, Washington DC); Alice Pfizer, the pharmaceuticals heiress, later Baroness Bachofen von Echt (Private Collection, London); Lily Oelrichs, later Mrs Peter Martin and Duchess of Mecklenburg; Count Antoine Seilern alone, and with his two older brothers Charles and Oswald when children, their mother Antoinette, aunt Carola Woerishoffer and grandmother, Mrs Charles Woerishoffer; Natica Terry, later Countess Stanislas de Castellane, and her mother Madame Francesco Terry of the Chateau de Rochecotte, France (Private Collection, London); Elise Ladew, later Mrs William R. Grace, whose brother was gardener Harvey Ladew friend of King Edward VIII; Madame Felipe Pardo Y Bareda, the wife of the Vice-President of Peru (1917).

He had two New York studios: 1884-1904 in the Sherwood Studio Building, 58 West 57th Street and 6th Avenue (the building has been long demolished); and 1904-1947 on the top floor right of the Atelier Building 33 West 67th Street.

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. However, Müller-Ury liked Califormia and after painting Archbishop Edward 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 Monroe 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.

Here, during the following years, he executed portraits of Huntington's granddaughter Mary Brockway Metcalf, the diplomat Henry Mauris Robinson, Anita Baldwin (daughter of 'Lucky Baldwin' of Arcadia, full-length), Maurice DeMond (founder of the Breakfast Club then in Griffiths Park), and President Rufus B. von KleinSmid (1931) of the University of Southern California (three-quarter length; deaccessioned by the university in the 1980s). In 1926 he 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 a smaller seated version which was acquired by John and Elizabeth Huntington Metcalf. He also painted a large allegorical work entitled "The Spirit of California" a version of which was acquired by a man called Fred Keeler.

He abandoned the studio for the last time on September 3 1933, and sold it in January 1947.

Painter of Still Lifes

The first printed evidence that Müller-Ury painted still-lifes is in an article in the Budget, Boston, dated August 2, 1896: ‘...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.’ 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, further evidence that he had painted some still lifes before 1896. After 1918 many of his more impressionistic rose paintings depict Chinese vases from the collection of J. Pierpont Morgan that he copied at the galleries of Duveen Brothers in New York. The roses were claimed by the soprano Jessica Dragonette in her autobiography (1951) to be the varieties American Beauty (red), La France (pink), Belle of Portugal (pale pink), Claudius, Killarney (rose pink), and Boucher-Pierné.


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

1884, Schweizerisches Kunstaustellung, Berne.

1886, SCHAUS’S ART GALLERY, 204, Fifth Avenue, (at Madison Square) New York.

1888, Kunstmuseum, Berne.

1888-89, First National Art Exhibition of Pictures by Swiss Artists (TRAVELLING EXHIBITION): Berne, Herisau, Lucerne, Aargau, Lausanne, Basel, Geneva.


1889, National Academy of Design, New York.

1889, MYERS & HEDIAN, North Charles Street, Baltimore.


1890, National Academy of Design, New York.

1890, PARIS SALON - Galerie des Artistes-Modernes, rue de la Paix, 5.

1891, M. KNOEDLER & CO., 170, Fifth Avenue, New York.

1892, Second National Art Exhibition of Pictures by Swiss Artists, Berne.

1894, February 1st - 15th, MESSRS. M. KNOEDLER & CO., 170, Fifth Avenue (corner Twenty-second Street), New York

1894, November 1st - 22nd, NATIONAL ACADEMY OF DESIGN, New York, ‘Loan Exhibition of Portraits of Women’


1895, M. KNOEDLER & Co., 170, Fifth Avenue (corner Twenty-second Street), New York.

1895, October 31st - December 7th, NATIONAL ACADEMY OF DESIGN, New York, ‘Loan Exhibition of Portraits’.



1897, March 1st - 15th - DURAND-RUEL GALLERIES, 389, Fifth Avenue, New York. (One Man Show)


1898-99, NATIONAL ACADEMY OF DESIGN, New York, ‘Loan Exhibition of Portraits’.

1900, EXPOSITION UNIVERSELLE, Paris, U.S. Pavilion

1901, January 5th - 19th, C.W. KRAUSHAAR ART GALLERIES, 260, Fifth Avenue (between 28th & 29th Streets), New York (One Man Show)

1901, PAN-AMERICAN EXPOSITION, Buffalo, New York.

1901, M. KNOEDLER & CO., New York.

1901-02, December 1 1901 - June 1 1902, SOUTH CAROLINA INTER-STATE AND WEST INDIAN EXPOSITION, Charleston, South Carolina.


1903, January 5th - 19th, NOE ART GALLERIES, 368, Fifth Avenue (between 34th & 35th Streets), New York.

1904, November 23rd - December 3rd, M. KNOEDLER & CO., 355, Fifth Avenue (corner Thirty-fourth Street), New York. (One Man Show)

1905, THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO, Portrait Exhibition

1906, December 3rd - 15th, M. KNOEDLER & CO., 355, Fifth Avenue, (corner of Thirty-fourth Street), New York. (One Man Show)

1907, THE LOTUS CLUB, New York.


1908, THE LOTUS CLUB, New York.

1908, January 13th - 22rd, M. KNOEDLER & CO., 355, Fifth Avenue, (corner of Thirty-fourth Street), New York. (One Man Show)

1908, Monday, January 27th - Friday, January 31st, BENDANN’S ART STORE, BALTIMORE.

1908, Tuesday, February 4th - Wednesday, February 19th, THE CORCORAN GALLERY OF ART, WASHINGTON D.C. (One Man Show)

1908, February 1908, McCLEES GALLERIES, 1411, Walnut Street, Philadelphia.

1910, March 22nd - April 30th, KÖNIGLICHE AKADEMIE DER KÜNSTE ZU BERLIN, ‘Ausstellung Amerikanischer Kunst’ (Ex. Cat.).

1910-11, December 21st - January 3, M. KNOEDLER & CO., 355, Fifth Avenue, New York. (One Man Show)

1912, THE RALSTON GALLERIES, 567, Fifth Avenue, New York.

1913, March 31st - April 12th, M. KNOEDLER & CO., 556-558, Fifth Avenue, New York. (One Man Show)

1916, THE RALSTON GALLERIES, 567, Fifth Avenue, New York.

1916, THE LOTUS CLUB, 110, West 57th Street, New York.

1917, HENRY REINHARDT & SON, 565, Fifth Avenue, New York.

1918, January 7th - 12th, HENRY REINHARDT & SON, 565, Fifth Avenue, New York.

1918, February 23rd - 26th, THE LOTUS CLUB, 110, West 57th Street, New York.

1918, M. KNOEDLER & CO., 556, Fifth Avenue, New York.

1918, THE RALSTON GALLERY, 567, Fifth Avenue, New York.

1923, GUMP’S, San Francisco.

1925, April 6th - April 18th, DUVEEN GALLERIES, 720, Fifth Avenue, New York. (One Man Show)


1937, April 20th - May 4th, WILDENSTEIN & CO., INC., 19, East 64th Street, New York. (One Man Show)

1943, May 5th - 19th, GRAND CENTRAL ART GALLERIES, New York, ‘Portraits of Yesterday and Today.’

1944, March 7th - April 4th, WILDENSTEIN GALLERY, New York, ‘Stars of Yesterday & Today’, Section: Contemporary Portraits by Contributing Artists.

1947, April 21st - May 3rd, FRENCH & COMPANY, 210, East 57th Street, New York. (One Man Show)

2000, NEWPORT ART MUSEUM, Rhode Island, 'Newportraits'.


The largest public collections of his works are:

The Historisches Museum, 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).

The National Portrait Gallery in Washington has seven portraits, including President McKinley, General Henry Clark Corbin, James J. Hill which includes two 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.

The New York State Museum at Albany contains six portraits, four of which were in the former New York Chamber of Commerce: Theodore Havemeyer, 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.


Geraldine Norman, 'The Artist Time Forgot', in "The Independent", London, December 16 1989.

Stephen Conrad, 'Re-introducing Adolfo Müller-Ury 1862-1947: The artist, two dealers, four counts and the Kaiser: A hitherto unknown episode in international art history' in "The British Art Journal", Volume 4, No. 2, Summer 2003, pp.57-65.

Further Research

The British art historian Stephen Conrad is currently writing a biography of and compiling a catalogue of works by Müller-Ury. Owners are kindly requested to contact him at


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