Ohio Biographies

George W. White

George W. White, the well-known artist of this city, was born on the 8th of November, 1826, at Oxford. His father, George G. White, was a native of Virginia, and emigrated at an early age to Ohio, settling in Fairfield Township, near Black Bottom, in the year 1800. In 1824 he became postmaster of the village of Oxford, continuing in office some twenty-five years. Here George W. White began his first attempts at painting, which it is believed, are mostly destroyed. Mr. Higgins, who resides in the village, was the first to encourage him in the idea of becoming a painter, and gave him a lump of crude umber, gamboge, and Prussian blue, with some White lead. With these crude appliances he began a picture on a piece of unprepared bed-ticking, and placing it on the house-top to dry. His first essay at painting heads was made in Hamilton, in the year 1840, with S. S. Walker, under whose direction he was placed a short time, when he became ill from close confinement, on recovery being sent to the Miami University as a student, Prof. Moffatt, seeing his predilection, advised him to continue the study of art. Although his father was unfavorable to this course of life, he supplied his son with means to go to Cincinnati, where he entered upon an artist's career in 1843. He met with but little encouragement. The painters all assured him that the life of an artist was "a starving one," and he was obliged to catch up what instruction he could from the others, not being able to afford regular lessons.

His scanty means were soon exhausted and he began traveling as a negro minstrel. This was then new, and he went through the country with Webb's Serenaders and Sable Sisters, following this with a trip on the Ohio and Mississippi with a show company, comprising minstrels, tumblers, and athletes. At New Orleans the company disbanded in trouble, and White returned to Cincinnati and engaged with Rockwell's Amphitheater, on the site where the Gazette office now is. Here he sang and played nightly in the saw-dust of the arena, under the cover of burnt cork. This was his last appearance in public in this capacity. He resumed the pencil, and returned for a season to his native village, where he painted cabinet heads of all who would sit, at five and ten dollars a head. He returned to Cincinnati in 1847, and took rooms in the Apollo Building, at the corner of Fifth and Walnut, which was at that time the retreat of several meritorious artists, amongst who we might name Beard, Brannon, Miller, Eaton, Duncanson, Whittridge, Johnson, Tom Jones, the sculptor, and others. Mr. White had his room-mate W. L. Sonntag, the landscape painter, who is now living in New York City. The first picture which Mr. White ventured to place before the public was a half-length portrait of Julia Dean Hayne. She was then the city's favorite, and her picture attracted wide attention. She was represented as Virginia in the play of Roman Father. From that time on he continued to paint portraits, landscapes, and so on; in fact, any kind of work was gladly received. Some of these canvases were the joint productions of White and Sonntag, who, when not engaged in painting, were skirmishing about for something to eat. They suffered keenly from the distresses and difficulties which usually attend this class of young and undistinguished painters, and were forced to do whatever offered. Occasionally they decorated omnibuses and railroad cars, and at other times painted scenes in the Museum Theater.

Mr. White became a member of the Artists' Union on it formation, which afforded him a sale for a number of his pictures. In the Summer of 1848 he painted the "Greek Slave," two pictures, embodying the front and rear views, with the matchless profile seen to equal advantage in both. This effort placed him favorably before the public as an artist. The pictures, after being shown in the East and West, were finally taken to New York and sold for a thousand dollars apiece. He continued painting, turning out some fine work occasionally, among which were his pictures of "Musidor," "Helen McGregor," "Beauty's Reverie," "Galbina," "Undine," and "Ophelia." Among his portraits at that time were those of the Rev. Thomas H. Stockton and Edwin Forrest, the actor. At the burning of Wood's Museum, in 1857, these and many other works of the artist were destroyed. They represented the labor of years. He had resided for some time in Covington, when he was induced by his friends to go to New York City. After an experience of a year he returned, setting up his easel in Cincinnati, and shortly after painting "Louis Kossuth" and Lola Montez." In 1857 Mr. White came to Hamilton, where he has since remained, excepting during the Rebellion, when he was in Cincinnati. He met with almost constant employment, and received high and flattering encouragement from patrons at home and abroad. Among the most notable of his pictures at that time were those of General Grant and General Sherman.

He was married in 1866 to Miss Mary, daughter of the late Major John Crane, an old resident of Hamilton. Mrs. White died in 1872, leaving one son. Mr. White, like most painters of the day, depends for a living on painting portraits and teaching art, in which he has been generously supported by patrons and friends.


From A History and Biographical Cyclopædia of Butler County Ohio, With Illustrations and Sketches of its Representative Men and Pioneers, Western Biographical Publishing Company, Cincinnati Ohio, 1882.