The Colgate Family

Johannes Adam Simon Oertel (American (born in Furth, Bavaria), 1823–1909)


85.1 x 68.6 cm (33.5 x 27 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

On View

David and Stacey Goel Gallery (Gallery 239)





In The Colgate Family, German immigrant Johannes Oertel—an able painter, engraver, and art teacher—painted a portrait that presented a hopeful vision for the future of his adopted country. Oertel showed in this comfortable interior that the prospects of the United States, which had suffered great destruction and loss of life during the Civil War, rested upon a new generation of strong young men.
The portrait depicts a wealthy manufacturer and his family in their Orange, New Jersey, mansion. Samuel Colgate is shown here with his wife, Elizabeth (niece of the artist and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse [48.455]), and their four sons, who range in age from three to twelve. A portrait of Colgate’s father, William, overlooks the family from the wall above the fireplace. Colgate entertains his youngest son with an improvised hand puppet, while Elizabeth sits thoughtfully with her knitting in her lap. The two youngest boys wear dresses of the type worn by all small children, while Gilbert, at age seven, is old enough to be clothed in the comfortable knickers worn by boys. The oldest son, Richard, sitting on the carpet, is attired in the cadet uniform of a military academy. These young boys not only create a scene of happy family life, but by their vitality also forecast the nation’s return to health and prosperity.

This text was adapted from Carol Troyen and Janet L. Comey, Amerikakaigakodomo no sekai [Children in American art], exh. cat. (Nagoya, Japan: Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 2007).


Signed and dated lower right


1866, Samuel Colgate (1822-1897), Orange, New Jersey; descended in the Colgate family to Mr. and Mrs. Gaynor, Greenwich, Conn.; 2001, consigned to The Greenwich Gallery, Greenwich, Conn.; 2002, sold by The Greenwich Gallery to the MFA. (Accession Date: February 27, 2002)

Credit Line

Museum purchase by subscription in honor of Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., John Moors Cabot Curator of American Paintings, 1977-2000 and M. Theresa B. Hopkins Fund