spacer James K. Polk James K. Polk (1795-1849)
Eleventh President (1845-1849)

It is often said that James K. Polk was the first "dark horse" to claim a presidential nomination, and during his White House campaign of 1844, his opponents were fond of sneering, "Who is James Polk?" Once he was in office, however, the question quickly lost its sarcastic bite. A diligent worker who abhorred the thought of "time unprofitably spent," Polk set four goals for his presidency reducing tariffs, creating an independent treasury system, settling the Oregon boundary dispute with Great Britain, and acquiring California. None of the four objectives were easily reached, and gaining California meant going to war with Mexico. By his administration's close, however, all had been accomplished. Unfortunately, Polk's success came at great personal cost. A spent man, he died within four months of retiring to private life.

Despite his unrelenting preoccupation with presidential duties, Polk proved willing to sit for several artists during his administration, including the Cincinnati artist Minor Kellogg. While painting this portrait, Kellogg persuaded Polk to make one of his rare escapes from work to go see sculptor Hiram Powers's much-acclaimed Greek Slave, which had just been put on public view in Washington.

Minor K. Kellogg (1814-1889)
Oil on canvas, circa 1840
On loan from the Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio
Gift of Charles H. Kellogg


Enlarged image