Stephen Girard was a leading financier of the War of 1812, a noted banker and a philanthropist who founded Girard College in Philadelphia. In 1811 Congress refused to renew the charter for the First National Bank of the United States, absent the existence of a national banking, Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin was left with limited options for financing the War of 1812. To fund the war effort, the government authorized issuing of Treasury notes paying 6% interest on five different occasions between 1812 and 1816.
In 1813, Treasury issued the second series of notes hoping to raise $16 million dollars, when only $6 million of the notes were sold; the government borrowed the remaining $10 million dollars from a small group of bankers and financiers led by Stephen Girard. Although a risky investment with the outcome of the war unknown, Girard and others realized a profit of $4 million dollars from the loan.
This portrait of Stephen Girard was painted posthumously by artist Bass Otis who previously had painted Girard from life. It is one of 5 portraits painted immediately after Girard’s death and given to family members and colleagues. The portrait was presented to the Treasury Department in 2004 by a descendent of the Girard family as testimony to the role Stephen Girard played in the history of the finances of the country.
Bass Otis was fascinated by all aspects of painting and science. Otis spent most of his early years in New York City completing his apprenticeship as a scythe-maker and working in the studio of artist John Wesley Jarvis.ass Otis was fascinated by all aspects of painting and science. Otis spent most of his early years in New York City completing his apprenticeship as a scythe-maker and working in the studio of artist John Wesley Jarvis.
In 1812 he moved to Philadelphia and set up a studio advertising his services as “artist and inventor’. One of his most famous inventions was the “Perspective Protractor” described by Otis as an instrument “by which the outline of any object may be correctly delineated and transferred to any size paper, walls, or any other substance of such like description…” Contemporary artists like Rembrandt Peale used the device and endorsed it as an “invaluable assistant to the artist”.
His inventions and commercial artistic pursuits have overshadowed Otis’s capabilities as a portrait painter. In 1824 he was elected Academician of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Over 300 Otis paintings have been documented to date, evidence of a prolific and successful career as a portrait artist.