George Burroughs Torrey (1863–1942) was an American painter, best known for his portraits. He has been called the “painter of presidents”, because he painted portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, and Herbert Hoover.
He was born in the old Astor House in New York City. His parents were Joseph and Harriet Louise Burroughs.
He had his first studio at 543 Fifth Avenue, where he drew and painted portraits. He moved to Paris, and had a studio there by 1893, just two doors from the Hungarian painter Mihály Munkácsy, on the Boulevard Malesherbes, and began his studies with Léon Bonnat, Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant and Alfred Philippe Roll. Roll used to come into his studio twice a week to criticise his work. In 1895, he exhibited his first salon portrait. He was particularly impressed with and influenced by the work of the portrait painter Carolus-Duran and the mural painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
Torrey returned to New York in the spring of 1897, still retaining his Paris studio, where he spent six months of each year until 1906, He gave an exhibition at the Waldorf-Astoria and in the fall of 1897, he started leasing a studio at 543 Fifth Avenue.
In the summer of 1902, he painted his first portrait of King George I of Greece at Aix-les-Bains, which now hangs in the palace at Athens. Two years later, he painted another portrait of George I of Greece, who presented it to his sister, Queen Alexandra of England. This portrait hung in the queen’s private apartments at Buckingham Palace. When the second portrait was completed, the King gave a dinner in honor of Torrey at Aix-les-Bains and awarded him the Order of the Savior, and at the same time expressed his wish that Torrey go to Athens and paint a portrait of Queen Olga.
The portrait of President Theodore Roosevelt was painted for Secretary of the Navy Paul Morton, who wished to present it to the city of Chicago, his former home. Secretary Morton had his own portrait painted by Torrey for the Navy Department.
For a long time, Torrey lived at 27 East 35th Street. His house featured a “Pompeian Hall” that was decorated with vines and a Louis Quinze room. He hosted lavish dinners and vaudeville entertainment for guests such as the opera singers Geraldine Farrar, Antonio Scotti and Enrico Caruso.
Torrey married Almirita Howes in Bridgeport, Connecticut on November 10, 1891. She divorced him in 1912/13. He later married Lillie Hart Gay Torrey, a Hawaii artist. He spent much time in Hawaii, and painted numerous portraits of business people and politicians.
He was related to Capt. Isaac Burroughs, who helped finance the Bridgeport Public Library. Several of Torrey’s paintings were donated by his widow to the public library, including as a large painting of Capt. Bill Lewis at the wheel of a boat sailing on Long Island Sound.
Torrey in his days was a popular painter and drawer of the Gilded Age, even if his style went out of fashion over time. Torrey extensively studied the early English portraitists, whose influence is manifest in his glowing colour, and in the decorative disposition of his draperies.
New York based George Burroughs Torrey is most often known for his portraits and figures paintings. Sometimes nicknamed the ‘painter of presidents’, Torrey is especially noted for his portrait of Theodore Roosevelt. Other subjects were King George of Greece and President William H. Taft.
He was married to Hawaiian artist, Lillie Hart Gay Torrey, and he spent much time in Hawaii where he did numerous portraits of business people and politicians.