Branson, who trained in Paris and lived in Knoxville, gained fame for his portraits of Southern politicians and community leaders, especially in East Tennessee. His work is featured at the Frank H. McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee, the Knox County Museum, the Knox County Library and the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville. The Smithsonian Institute houses his tribute to Benjamin Franklin. Branson died in 1925.
CLEVELAND, Tenn. - A mystery involving a century-old portrait has been solved.
A portrait of Dr. D.C. Arnold, who was superintendent of the Cleveland public school system for decades before his death in 1921, recently was identified as the work of renowned East Tennessee painter Lloyd Branson.
Sharon Bass, family program coordinator at Arnold Memorial Elementary School, noticed the portrait of Arnold about four years ago, where it was displayed with others in the school building, she said. She thought it was something special but had no clue to its origin. No signature is visible on the canvas, and only close inspection reveals the hint of a date.
Last fall she had a breakthrough when she read a Chattanooga Times Free Press story on another Branson work that had been discovered at Cleveland's Museum Center at Five Points: a portrait of Dr. Joseph Stubblefield, former president and teacher at the Centenary College for Women in Cleveland.
"When I saw that portrait, which came from the same time period and was painted in a similar style, I knew it had to be by the same artist," Bass said.
The distinctive similarities between the works include subjects whose faces are brought to focus with shafts of light on canvas otherwise dominated by dark colors. Instead of looking directly at the viewer, the men gaze above the viewer with an air of authority, Bass said.
The authenticity of the portrait has been verified by John Anderson of the Branson Art Organization, who included Arnold's portrait in "Branson," a recently published book on the artist's works.
The portrait now hangs prominently in the school's front entrance, and a copy of the leather-bound, limited-edition book is in the school's office.
Bass said the painting -- which has endured smears, cuts and summers without air conditioning -- is in dire need of restoration. She said the Arnold Alumni Association and other local historical groups may be interested in funding that restoration.
Those efforts also will require restoring the large portrait's ornate gilt frame, she said.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Contact him at email@example.com.