Painting the Light's Golden Jubilee Banquet
10 artifacts in this set
Nearly 500 distinguished guests paid tribute to Thomas Edison at the Light's Golden Jubilee banquet. Surprisingly there were no photographs taken--Ford did not want the smoke from flash cameras to disrupt the event. So, in the mid-1930s, Ford asked his staff artist, Irving Bacon, to capture the event in a large panoramic painting.
Irving Bacon first met Henry Ford in 1898 while working as an illustrator for Detroit newspapers. Ford appreciated Bacon's work and, after Bacon returned from studying art in Europe in 1915, Ford hired him. Bacon joined the Photographic Department of Ford Motor Company. Over the next thirty years, Bacon illustrated company publications, created portraiture, and painted scenes depicting Ford's life.
With no photographic documentation of the banquet, Bacon had to rely on guests to provide information. Letters sent by Ford staff in the mid-1930s asked attendees to indicate on a diagram where they sat, and whether they could recall those who sat next to them. Each letter also included a request for photographs of the guest, which would be used to create their likeness for the painting.
Correspondence between E.G. Liebold and P.E. Martin regarding Light's Golden Jubilee Banquet Painting
Ford Motor Company executive, P.E. Martin tried to remember his exact location, but only gave an approximation.
Correspondence between E.G. Liebold and Charles L. Clarke regarding Light's Golden Jubilee Banquet Painting, 1936
Charles L. Clarke, an assistant to Edison at Menlo Park and chief engineer of Edison Electric Light Company in New York City, determined his location--seat 13 table N--from the memorabilia he had saved from that evening. He was skeptical, however, that he would be included in the painting because he could "neither hear or see anything of importance" from where he sat. Clarke did make it into the painting--he even was placed in a better position.
The moment Bacon chose to document was Edison's brief heartfelt speech of appreciation to the throng of distinguished guests.
Bacon used models dressed in formal evening attire to create studies for figures seen in the foreground. He wanted to show the guests in a natural, relaxed pose as if they were listening to Thomas Edison's speech.
Diagram Identifying People Shown in Irving R. Bacon's Light's Golden Jubilee and Edison Institute Dedication Mural
Bacon took many artistic liberties: he moved guests when needed, and due to limited space, he did not include many of the nearly 500 guests. Bacon did, however, manage to fit in 262 recognizable portraits.
Among those shown in the painting were Edsel and Eleanor Ford and two of their children, Henry II and Benson. However, Edsel and his family did not attend the banquet. Twelve-year-old Henry Ford II had taken ill at the time of Light's Golden Jubilee, and according to Bacon, the family was quarantined. The elder Henry Ford insisted that Edsel and his family be in the painting. Bacon complied.
The 17-foot by 7-foot panoramic painting took nearly a decade to complete. Bacon considered it his most important work.