Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
American, 1863-1930

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1863, when the Civil War was raging. Historical painter, illustrator, etcher, he created work that is in Congress Hall in Philadelphia. Ferris was the pupil of his father, the portrait painter Stephen James Ferris, a devotee of Jean Leon Gerome and Mariano Fortuny. His mother's brother was Thomas Moran, so the atmosphere for an adolescent was fine art.

He studied in Spain in 1881, and in 1884, under William Adolphe Bouguereau at the Julian Academy in Paris, where he received the impetus to concentrate on historical painting. Until 1900 he prepared himself by traveling and sketching in England, France, Spain, Morocco and Belgium, specializing in historical analyses of architecture, customs, and dress as they might apply to the U.S.

He also investigated early American vehicles and boats, constructing accurate miniatures he gave to the New York Museum. Toward the end of his life, in 1927, he was able to donate to the National Museum the most important print collection the museum had had, 3,000 pieces of graphics of the 16th through the 19 centuries. 

About 1900, Ferris began the seventy historical paintings intended to depict consecutively the story of the American people from 1492 to 1865. The paintings cover early settlements through the nation's development, up to Abraham Lincoln. Indian and Western subjects were included. Two later additions were made, with scenes of 1902 and 1917. The collection was hung in Philadelphia's Congress in 1930 in a gallery built for the purpose.

It is said that Ferris was droll, genial, and witty, and that he lived a fruitful and happy life.