Using the pen name Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens had become one of this country's favorite satiric writers by the early 1870s, routinely making light of everyday human foibles. But it was the publication of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) that assured him a lasting place in American letters.
Inspired in part by Clemens’s own boyhood, these two tales set along the Mississippi River did more than capture the rhythms of youth in antebellum America. In both novels, Clemens examined with sardonic wit various tensions that underlay contemporary society, including, most importantly, the question of race. In later years, his success in this country and abroad was tempered by financial and personal setbacks and by a contempt for American and British imperialism.
This portrait of Mark Twain by John White Alexander is on view in the “American Origins” exhibition at National Portrait Gallery, on the museum's first floor. Professor Ben Click of St. Mary's College of Maryland recently discussed the painting at a Face-to-Face portrait talk.
Listen to Ben Click's Face-to-Face talk on Mark Twain (32:52)
Face-to-Face occurs every Thursday evening at the National Portrait Gallery. The next Face-to-Face talk is this Thursday, April 23, when Sid Hart, senior historian, speaks about Ronald Reagan. The talk runs from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. Visitors meet the presenter in the museum’s F Street lobby and then walk to the appropriate gallery.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens / John White Alexander, 1912 or 1913 / Oil on canvas / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution