James Buchanan Henry, Artist

James Buchanan “Buck” Henry was one of James Buchanan’s nephews. Orphaned at the age of seven, he lived under the guardianship of his Uncle Buchanan. Buck went on to attend the College of New Jersey (presently known as Princeton), become a successful lawyer, serve two years as President Buchanan’s private secretary, and serve as the U.S. Commissioner for the Eastern District of New York.

But amidst all of his career achievements was a life-long pursuit of his greatest passion: art.

Yes, Buck Henry was an artist.

A Love of Pictures

Buck’s love of pictures seemed to start at an early age. While attending the Lititz Moravian School for Boys at the age of 10, he accepted a bribe for the promise of a magic lantern with pictures.

“The master bribed him to eat sauerkraut by the promise of a magic lantern. He [Buck] loved pictures and worked manfully for his lantern— but he never ate any more sauerkraut.” (Private Publication, James Buchanan Henry Biography, donated by the Henry Family)

His love for pictures would grow from accepting bribes to accepting lessons.

Artistic Tutelage and Art Exhibitions

Soon after graduating from the College of New Jersey in 1852, Buck satisfied his Uncle Buchanan’s wishes to become a lawyer. At the time, this meant studying law until one passed the bar. And so, Buck lived in Philadelphia where he read law and served as a legal preceptor to John Cadwalader, Esquire.

But to Buchanan’s dismay, Buck was simultaneously studying art under Paul Webber.

Paul Weber was a German artist who briefly moved to the United States in 1848. Once there, he settled in Philadelphia and exhibited artwork at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the National Academy of Design, the Brooklyn Art Association, the Boston Athenaeum, the Washington Art Association, and the Paris Salon. He also conducted art classes, teaching Buck Henry, among others.

Under Weber’s tutelage, Buck honed his skills and “exhibited a painting at the 1855 exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts” (Looney, J. Jefferson, ed. “College as it Is or The Collegian’s Manual,” Princeton University Libraries, Princeton, NJ, 1996, p. xxix).

That same year, however, Buck passed the Philadelphia Bar. Despite having a recognized talent in art, Buck never made it his career.

A Sampling of Buck’s Artwork

But that didn’t stop Buck Henry from creating art. In fact, he created art for the rest of his life. The following images are a selection of his works.

To learn more about Buck Henry, and to see more of his art, we hope you can join us at Wheatland for a special subject tour, James Buchanan Henry: Private Secretary, on Saturday, March 5th. For more information, please visit our events page.

Gaining perspective from the history left behind at Wheatland, Museum Associate Stephanie Celiberti explores the world that James Buchanan inhabited, digging up the intricacies of daily life in the 19th century to better understand the ins-and-outs of those who came before us. By walking in the shoes—quite literally—of the Victorians, she challenges a new understanding of history—one that is tactile and present with our world today. 

From History From The House