13 Nauvoo Summer to Fall 1845

                                                          William Warner Major


Jill C. Major, Author

Summer 1845

As summer arrived, the editor (probably John Taylor) of the Nauvoo Neighbor encouraged the natives of Nauvoo to patronize the local art talent. Under the heading of fine arts, this paragraph appeared on June 4, 1845:

We have two portrait painters in the city: Mr. Major and Mr. Van Sickle. They are both good workmen, and as the saints generally are 'men greatly wondered at,' it will be no more than justice to increase the wonderment by excellent likenesses.1

The Major's continued their activity in the Church and received their Patriarchal blessings by "Uncle John" Smith, as he was known to Church members, on 16 June 1845.2

Still, the only Church calling Major held was artist and his skills were in high demand by Church leaders and others.

Jennetta Richards Richards

 Jennetta Richards Richards, used by permission of the International

Society-Daughters of the Utah Pioneers 


Major began a picture of Jennetta Richards Richards in early Spring. One of the great pioneer love stories is the meeting of Dr. Willard Richards and Jennetta. In England, Heber C. Kimball baptized the twenty-one year old daughter of Reverend John Richards, an independent minister. Later, he told Willard Richards, "I baptized your wife today." Elder Richards soon met the new convert. He wrote in his journal on March 10, 1838 that while walking with Jennetta, "I remarked, 'Richards is a good name; I never want to change it; do you, Jennetta?'

'No; I do not,' was her reply, 'and I think I never will.'" They were married just six months later on September 24, 1838.

In May 1845, complications from her fourth pregnancy made Jennetta critically ill. Dr. Richards cared for his wife for days, often not even removing his clothes to rest. Friends prayed and administered to Jennetta on several occasions, but the twenty-eight year old wife and mother died on July 9th. Her oil portrait was incomplete and it comforted Willard Richards to visit Major's studio in the Seventies Hall to see it. Willard Richards wrote:

Tuesday, July 15 This morn visited 70's Hall to see Jennetta's painting.

Monday July 21 ...went into the 70's Hall to see the paintings Rhoda Ann pointed out Mothers profile though not 1/2 done.3

Richards began modeling for his own portrait later that month. It is the first time he wrote the name of Major in his journal. Notice the misspellings of Major's name in the following entries, evidence that Richards didn't know the portrait painter well.

Monday, 28 July Went to 70's Hall to see profile

-- to sit for painting by Majar

The next entries in Richards's journal indicates that he and Major decided to ask Ann Fox, a plural wife of Richards, to pose, so that Jennetta's picture could be completed:

Wednesday Aug 13 4:p.m. went to 70's Hall where Ann Rhoda Ann and Sarah Longstroth [Willard Richards's plural wife] were Ann sitting for Majer to paint Rings and Book of Mormon for Jennetta...

Saturday Aug 16 ...went to 70's Hall to see Jennetta profile Ann Fox4 had been sitting with Jennetta's and Rhoda Ann.


Family Portraits:  Brigham and Mary Ann (Angell) Young; Heber C. and Vilate Kimball families

The summer of 1845 William Warner Major began two other ambitious projects meant to immortalize the new leadership of the Church. Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, daughter of Heber C. and Vilate Kimball wrote:

I had nearly forgotten our artist, Brother Major, from England; who commenced in the summer of 1845 to paint our family group. It was upon a large canvas, tastefully arranged,--my father and mother sitting with baby in the centre,--myself at her side and my brother William with his wife and little daughter on the left, and four younger brothers made up the family group. I sat for mine more than any of the rest, and the face was nearly completed before it was taken off the frame to be packed away, which was done only a short time previous to our leaving Nauvoo. One the same size, with President Brigham Young and family was begun at the same time--the latter I saw but a short time previous to Sister Young's death.5

There are eight people and two dogs in the now famous Brigham Young and Mary Ann Angell painting and eleven subjects in the Kimball painting. Each of these 19 people had to sit for his or her portrait individually! Major's studio was a busy place! The Brigham Young Family picture was completed after the pioneers arrived in Salt Lake. Major died before he could finish the Kimball family painting.

 William's employment with the citizens of Nauvoo and the Church made it possible for William and Sarah to purchase land west of the city on lot number 32 of Kimball's Addition, August 29, 1845. William and Sarah Major paid the owners, Charles C. and Sarah Pea Rich, one hundred dollars.6 It's possible that part of the price was bartered for matching portraits of this prominent couple. Their paintings, which now hang in the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum, were used to decorate the Nauvoo temple.7

Nauvoo: Summer to Fall 1845

Throughout the summer and fall Willard Richards continued visiting Major. Evidence of a beginning friendship, born out of Richards's' painful longing for his wife is manifested in Richards's journal.

Friday Aug 22 ...to Majer's: 70's Hall. Majer went home with me saw the children so staid till 10.

Fri Sept 5 Bro Majer spent the evening with me looking on Jennetta's family portraits.

Monday Sept 8 Went to 70's Hall. Geo [A. Smith] went on. I staid for Majer to fix my face in painting examined Jennetta painting was nearly done & suggested some improvements.

Friday Sept 12th I went at 3 to 70's Hall to see Jennetta's painting finishing on improving the face.

The next entries hint of a new painting Major would soon begin for the Richards's family. They also give the additional information of the price of a portrait in Nauvoo in 1845. (The cost apparently didn't include the purchase of the stretcher bars, which the subject obtained himself.)

Thursday Sept 18 ...got a stretchie [stretcher bars to stretch canvas] for Heber John & Rhoda Ann painting

Saturday Sept 20 ...to 70's Hall to see the finishing Jennetta's painting to okley[?] to pay Majer 1.50 cts.

Group portrait: Joseph Smith and prominent leaders

Sometime during the summer or fall of 1845 Major was commissioned by the Church leadership to paint a portrait of Joseph Smith and other prominent leaders. It now hangs in the Museum of Church History and Art. From left to right is Hyrum Smith, Dr. Willard Richards,8 Orson Pratt, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Hyde, Heber C. Kimball, and Brigham Young. The reason I date this picture during this time period is because as early as April 30, 1845 The Nauvoo Neighbor, announced that there were no worthy paintings available of the "twelve and other distinguished persons in Nauvoo" and they advised "our brethren in New York and elsewhere, to hold on...we have the best artists in the world in Nauvoo; and noble heads, and in time, we can give fac similes, to the life, worthy of men of God."9 Also, it wasn't until the summer and fall months of 1845 that Major painted portraits of Richards, Young, and Kimball. The picture of Joseph Smith (standing) is evidently influenced by Maudsley's earlier profiles of the Prophet. Major also copied a portrait of Hyrum Smith (that was painted before 1837 and later hung in the Nauvoo Temple) which accounts for Hyrum's distracted gaze away from the direction of the lecturing Prophet. Why were these particular men chosen, when others who were equally important leaders (such as George A. Smith, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff), not included in the portrait? Because the men in the painting either had portraits which were accessible for Major to copy or were personally available to pose for Major.


Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and early Church leaders

Early Church leaders: Hyrum Smith, Willard Richards, Joseph Smith, Orson Pratt, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Hyde, Heber C. Kimball, and Brigham Young
Painting by William W. Major

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Panorama:  Joseph the Prophet addressing the Nauvoo Legion

Along with the other Nauvoo artists, Major worked on another 128 square foot mural commissioned by Philo Dibble. Hosea Stout wrote on September 8, 1845:

"...at 5 met some officers of the Legion at Coolidges' to see about the painting of the scenery of Joseph the Prophet addressing the Nauvoo Legion on the 18th day of June 1844."10General Joseph Smith Addressing the Nauvoo Legion












Robert Campbell (1810–1890)
Watercolor and ink on paper, 1845

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


This mural was exhibited with the earlier scene of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum in the Masonic Hall the middle of November.11 A small preliminary sketch was once again painted by Robert Campbell and is hanging in the Church Museum of History and Art. These murals were also exhibited in Winter Quarters and Utah. Unfortunately, Philo Dibble stored them under his bed in a log home and they were destroyed by water.12