Jay Cooke Portrait

Detail of the Portrait of Jay Cooke at the Treasury building


The New York Times on February 5, 1911, carried the following Treasury news item:

“Washington, Feb. 4 – Jay Cooke, one of the financiers of the civil war, now has a place among the portraits on the walls of the offices in the Treasury Department. A large oil painting of Cooke, presented to the Treasury by a firm of New York bankers, was placed in position to-day.”

The Cooke portrait was painted by the celebrated American painter, William Merritt Chase (self-portrait, below), and was the gift of the firm of Smith Barney. It is one of a small number of portraits that came early into the Treasury collection, representing prominent American financiers who were not Treasury secretaries.

Self portrait of William Merritt Chase, painter of the Jay Cooke portrait

The genesis of Smith Barney’s gift was Jay Cooke’s role as a financier of the Union cause during the Civil War. At the beginning of the war, Cooke met with Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase to secure loans from leading American banks. Subsequently, Cooke was successful at selling bonds during the war, so that Union soldiers could receive pay for their last days in battle at the war’s end​.

The Treasury portrait, painted in 1910, is a direct copy after a portrait that was commissioned in 1902 by Smith Barney, the successor firm to Jay Cooke and Company. The firm commissioned Chase who did make minor adjustments to the earlier portrait, retaining the elder Cooke’s posture and bearing. The portrait hangs in the Salmon P. Chase Suite, where Cooke would have met with the Treasury secretary in the early days of the war.

Interior of the Salmon P. Chase Suite, the Jay Cooke portrait hangs over the fireplace