Portrait of a Soldier, 1918
Oil on board
In 2008, the Historical Society was the grateful recipient of a generous gift from Eva and Michelle Terrell, Portrait of a Soldier, by Cameron Booth. An extraordinary early painting by one of Minnesota’s best known 20th century artists, this oil sketch portrays a somewhat gaunt, uniformed soldier with a piercing gaze. It is signed with somber formality “George Cameron Booth, A.E.F. (American Expeditionary Force) France, 1918.”
Cameron Booth was born in Pennsylvania in 1892 and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1912 to 1917. Following his service in World War I, Booth accepted a teaching position in 1921 at the Minneapolis School of Art and made Minnesota his permanent home. Throughout his lengthy career he exhibited widely and received recognition for his artistic ability and teaching experience.
But, is this painting a portrait of an anonymous soldier, or a portrait of the artist himself?
We do know that Booth was indeed in France in 1918. The formality of the signature reads more like a title (or an epitaph) and the description on Booth’s draft registration card (bald, blue eyes) matches the person in the painting. But the painting’s history after its creation is mostly unknown. Before arriving to Minnesota, it was in a private collection in California and misidentified as a portrait of another Minnesota artist Adolf Dehn. The painting has been shown to a number of people who knew Booth in his later years but the results have been inconclusive.
The earliest image of Booth in the Minnesota Historical Society’s photograph collection is from the late 1930s—nearly twenty years after the portrait was painted. Similarities between the portrait and the photograph certainly exist but until a picture of Booth from the same time period is located, the work will be identified simply as Portrait of a Soldier.
This recent acquisition is the 55th painting by Cameron Booth in our fine art collection of more the 6,000 works of art. Many thanks to Eva and Michelle Terrell for this gift to the Minnesota Historical Society.
Brian Szott, Curator of Art