US Capitol’s lost painting of MCZ founder found after 150 years by Belgian shark researcher

March 26, 2020
Posthumous portrait of Louis Agassiz by Henry Ulke (oil on canvas), signed and dated (1876) in lower left-hand corner, after restoration (ex Ulke Family Collection, Swann 2013, sale 2324, lot 328, in part); courtesy of ERB library
Posthumous portrait of Louis Agassiz by Henry Ulke (oil on canvas), signed and dated (1876) in lower left-hand corner, after restoration (ex Ulke Family Collection, Swann 2013, sale 2324, lot 328, in part); courtesy of ERB library

Three years after Louis Agassiz died, Washington-based photographer Henry Ulke, also known as the ‘Painter of presidents’ and the photographer of Lincoln’s famous deathbed picture, painted Agassiz’s posthumous portrait (oil on canvas). In 1877, this portrait was purchased by the US Capitol (Washington DC). Thereafter, it soon went missing and remained unnoticed for nearly one hundred and fifty years, until the same portrait was recently found by shark researcher Frederik Mollen (Belgium) at a sale by Swann Auction Galleries, New York.

Many institutions provided archival material, including staff at the MCZ Ernst Mayr Library who provided assistance to Dr. Mollen as he worked to unravel the mystery of the whereabouts of the portrait. 

The paper is available as open access, published by the Swiss Journal of Palaeontology.