By Eden Slone, Intern, Office of Collections Information and Research, National Portrait Gallery
A native Californian, William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951) began his career in publishing when he obtained ownership of The San Francisco Examiner in 1887 from his father, George Hearst. Over many years, he added other newspapers to his growing business. In fact, “empire” may be a more appropriate term, as approximately 25 percent of Americans received their news from a paper owned by Hearst at his entrepreneurial zenith.
He later expanded his empire to include other forms of media and entertainment, particularly movies, television, and radio. In 1902, Hearst even dabbled in politics, representing New York in the U.S. Congress and mounting a fruitless gubernatorial campaign four years later. In 1904 he even sought the Democratic nomination for president.
Despite his business genius, Hearst’s most enduring legacy seems to be his designation as an art collector. It is believed that Hearst, unaccompanied, “accounted for 25 percent of the world’s art market during the 1920s and ‘30s.”
His collection was diverse, ranging from medieval Italian armor to Navajo weavings to objects from South East Asia. Much of the art he owned and subsequently sold is of museum caliber and can be found at many institutions across the nation, including his Enchanted Hill in San Simeon.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, for example, credits Hearst as its “greatest individual donor” and in 2008 organized an exhibition of nearly 170 objects in his name. Other notable institutions that now own Hearst objects include the Louvre, MoMA, the National History Museum of Los Angeles County, the University of California’s Bancroft Library, and Long Island University’s C. W. Post campus.
The cartoon seen above caricatures Hearst and William Jennings Bryan’s complicated political relationship. Hearst followed in Bryan’s footsteps and ran for president in 1904. Hearst presumed he would receive Bryan’s West and Midwest followers as well his endorsement, but he did not. Without Bryan’s support, Hearst could not win the Democratic presidential nomination. However, the rivals allied in 1924 against Al Smith, “the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination.”
The photograph below illustrates Hearst’s intense focus and determination in both the political and business realms. Hearst successfully developed an influential news empire and made his mark on the Democratic Party of the early twentieth century.
William Jennings Bryan and Willaim Randolph Hearst / Peter Sheaf Hersey Newell / Watercolor on paper, 1908 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
William Randolph Hearst / Erich Salomon / Gelatin silver print, 1930 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Hearst Castle. “William Randolph Hearst.” Accessed April 9, 2013, http://hearstcastle.org/history-behind-hearst-castle/historic-people/profiles/william-randolph-hearst/.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “Hearst the Collector.” Accessed April 9, 2013. http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/hearst-collector.
Muchnic, Suzanne. “Hearst, Off the Hill.” Los Angeles Times, September 7, 2008.
Nasaw, David. The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Robinson, Francis W. “A Gift of Arms and Armor From the Collection of William Randolph Hearst.” Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 33, no.1 (1953–54): 1–5.
The Frick Collection Archives. “Directory for the History of Collecting in America: Hearst, William Randolph, 1863-1951.” Accessed April 9, 2013. http://research.frick.org/directoryweb/browserecord.php?-action=browse&-recid=6219.
Whitaker, Kathleen. “Art from the Navajo Loom: The William Randolph Hearst Collection.” African Arts 22, no. 2 (February 1989): 98–99.