Skip to main content

Isaac Merrit Singer

Isaac Merrit Singer
Edward Harrison May, 1824 - 1887
Isaac Merrit Singer, 27 Oct 1811 - 23 Jul 1875
Oil on canvas
Stretcher: 130.8 x 98.7 x 3.2cm (51 1/2 x 38 7/8 x 1 1/4")
Frame: 144.8 x 112.4 x 6.7cm (57 x 44 1/4 x 2 5/8")
Home Furnishings\Furniture\Table
Personal Attribute\Facial Hair\Beard
Isaac Merrit Singer: Male
Isaac Merrit Singer: Business and Finance\Businessperson\Industrialist\Manufacturer
Isaac Merrit Singer: Science and Technology\Inventor\Sewing machine
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the Singer Company
Restrictions & Rights
Object number
Exhibition Label
Born Pittstown, New York
An actor turned inventor, Isaac Singer democratized clothing production with the sewing machine he patented in 1851. Although not the first (Elias Howe introduced a design in 1846), Singer’s machine was more reliable and could sew nine hundred stitches per minute, whereas Howe’s model only sewed 250. Within two years, it was hailed as “one of the most efficient labor-saving devices ever introduced to public notice.” Aiming the product at women and putting it within reach of a wide range of buyers, Singer and his business partner Edward Clark established an international commercial empire.
Singer commissioned this portrait while living in Paris, after scandals about his private life forced him to relocate to Europe. U.S. artist Edward Harrison May painted him in clothing that reflects his wealth and notorious extravagance.
Nacido en Pittstown, Nueva York
Actor convertido en inventor, Isaac Singer democratizó la producción de ropa con la máquina de coser que patentó en 1851. Aunque no fue la primera (Elias Howe introdujo un diseño en 1846), la máquina de Singer era más confiable y hacía 900 puntadas por minuto, mientras que el modelo de Howe solo hacía 250. Al cabo de dos años fue aclamada como “uno de los aparatos más eficientes que se hayan presentado ante el público”. Dirigiendo la promoción del producto a las mujeres y haciéndolo accesible para una amplia gama de compradores, Singer y su socio Edward Clark crearon un imperio internacional.
Singer encargó este retrato mientras vivía en París, luego de que los escándalos de su vida privada lo obligaran a radicarse en Europa. El artista estadounidense Edward Harrison May lo pintó con ropas que reflejan su riqueza y su famosa extravagancia.
Singer Company, Elizabeth, New Jersey; gift 1975
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
Out of Many: Portraits from 1600 to 1900
On View
NPG, East Gallery 131