By John D. Hopkins
Around the turn of the 20th century, many people in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were dissatisfied with existing representations of their first leader, the Prophet Joseph Smith. As evidence of this, Dean C. Jessee relates the following from some prominent Church member's opinions about some of Joseph Smith's portraits:
"In December 1894, a service commemorating Joseph Smith's birth was held in the old Sixteenth Ward meetinghouse in Salt Lake City. Bathsheba W. Smith, one of the dwindling generation of Latter-day Saints who knew the Prophet, spoke to the assembly. The aging matriarch mentioned that she had been personally acquainted with Joseph and that she prided herself as a judge of handsome men. Then, referring to cherished paintings of the Prophet adorning the walls of the chapel, she commented that they were 'but little better than cartoons'; they were nothing but 'libels' and 'ought to be burned.'
"Further, Patriarch John Smith and Angus M. Cannon, who also spoke on the occasion, echoed Bathsheba Smith's observation. Others in the nineteenth century were equally unimpressed by the pictorial record. Alfred B. Lambson noted of Joseph, 'there are no pictures that do justice to him.'" 
Perhaps, not all felt so strongly, but at the time, the main representations of the Prophet in use appeared to be some crude profile drawings by Sutcliffe Maudsley and a front-view oil painting owned by The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (now known as The Community of Christ), both of which were done during Joseph Smith's lifetime. There were other portraits, but the above-mentioned images seemed to have risen to the top in their authoritative authenticity at the time.
Apparently however, Joseph and his wife Emma actually disliked this latter RLDS portrait because it "made him look foxy [sly]." Also, when Junius F. Wells visited Emma Smith in the winter of 1875--76, this painting was hanging in her home. He asked her what Joseph thought of the painting, and she replied, "I can tell you that, for I asked him, and he said: 'Emma that is a nice painting of a silly boy, but it don't look much like a Prophet of the Lord!'"  More recently, Ephraim Hatch in his comparisons of Joseph Smith portraits with the death mask, concludes: "A major surprise to me was to learn that the very popular front-view [RLDS] oil painting is not a very accurate portrait of Joseph. The artist was skillful in making beautiful facial features, but the relationship of one feature to another is not correct."
Prior to 1910, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seems to have mainly used the Maudsley shadow-derived portraits of Joseph Smith in Church publications. These drawings were made by tracing the profile of a person's shadow and then filling it in. During Joseph Smith's lifetime, photography was still in its infancy --- no known photographs were actually taken of him. Though there are claims to the contrary, research has shown these daguerreotypes have turned out to be of the RLDS portrait. The RLDS portrait was apparently not available to the Church for its publications until later. Though the Maudsley shadow portrait was an accurate profile of Joseph Smith near the latter end of his life, other elements were disappointing and became tiresome to Church members as it was so frequently published, with the reproductions apparently deteriorating.
Artwork 1. "Joseph Smith, the Prophet", 1910, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in., Courtesy of the Museum of Church History and Art
Church service and religious education were important to Lewis A. Ramsey. He believed that children should be shown accurate and interesting visual images of their beliefs. So he decided to make a new portrait of Joseph Smith. His wife said, "He thought it would do some good as all we ever saw were the awful profile[s] of Maudsley which became worse and worse..."
For about ten years before Lewis A. Ramsey put to canvas his well-known portraits of Joseph Smith in 1910 and Hyrum Smith in 1911, he researched every detail. Although there was no photograph of Joseph Smith, in the early 1900's there were still many helpful artifacts and sources of information made available to him and used by him in making the portrait:
· The death masks of Joseph and Hyrum, cast the day after their martyrdom
· A lock of Joseph's hair, showing his hair color
· A black dress coat that had belonged to Hyrum Smith, provided by descendants
· A good black and white photograph of the RLDS portrait, though this would have had very limited influence in the Ramsey portrait because L. A. Ramsey knew that Joseph and Emma Smith were not pleased with it
· An original drawing by Maudsley, which served at least to show the way the Prophet combed his hair at the time, the style of his collar, tie, and clothes generally
· A living relative to serve as a model, Wesley Smith (a grandson of Hyrum Smith), whose body build and head shape were reported to be similar to Joseph's
· The knowledge of people still alive who had known Joseph and Hyrum Smith personally
· Church Historian B. H. Roberts, whose office was across the hall from L. A. Ramsey's studio for a time, provided historical details about the Prophet's appearance
Most notable among those still living that had known Joseph Smith personally was "Aunt" Bathsheba W. Smith, General President of the Church's Relief Society from 1901 to 1910. Sister Smith was the wife of George A. Smith who had been 1st Councilor to Pres. Brigham Young. She had some skill as an artist herself, having studied with an artist in Nauvoo and even made a drawing of Joseph Smith once while he was preaching. She had known Joseph very well when she was a young woman, even having her wedding breakfast in his home. She was believed to have had a more accurate remembrance of him than did many who were younger at the time, including Joseph Smith's own children who were much younger than she when Joseph was martyred.
Lewis A. Ramsey also made portraits of Bathsheba Smith in 1908 and 1910. While sitting for them, she spoke of many incidents involving Emma Smith and the Prophet. She spoke much of the Prophet's character, habits, etc., all of which helped to give a greater understanding of him. When Wesley Smith posed for Mr. Ramsey's portrait, Bathsheba Smith tied the tie depicted in the portrait as it was done in Joseph Smith's time. Wesley's hair was combed in the style of the day and he wore the coat that had belonged to his grandfather Hyrum. Bathsheba Smith also said that Joseph always wore a ring on his right hand. The RLDS portrait also showed this. So Lewis placed the ring on the right hand rather than the left.
Artwork 2. Bathsheba Wilson Bigler Smith, 1910, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in., Courtesy of the Museum of Church History and Art
The Maudsley profiles were of course a side view of Joseph Smith and the RLDS portrait was a direct frontal view. But L. A. Ramsey's portrait was to be a new perspective of the Prophet --- a three-quarters view. He would also hold in his left arm what he himself called "the keystone of our religion", the Book of Mormon, which he translated and published to the world.
The final result appeared astonishingly authentic and seemed to truly capture the spirit of the Prophet. Mrs. Ramsey records in a letter, "Those who knew the Prophet praised the portrait." When Bathsheba Smith first saw the finished work she wept and exclaimed, "Oh, Lewis, that is the Prophet." Lucy Kimball, Joseph's last living wife, came up to Lewis' studio to view the portrait. She sat looking at it for some time, crying softly and said approvingly, "It is Joseph." Present in the studio at the time were Edna Smith, wife of President Joseph F. Smith, George D. Pyper, George Q. Morris (later a member of the Quorum of the Twelve), and others. A Church publication in 1910 corroborates this by writing of "the portrait, which many people, alive today, and who knew [Joseph Smith], declare to be more life-like than any previous painting of the Prophet." A newspaper article, also from 1910, records how others studiously approved of the portrait:
"Artist L. A. Ramsey has completed a picture of the Prophet Joseph, which promises to become the standard representation of the founder of the Latter-day Saint Church. Mr. Ramsey has made the picture from what authentic sources are extant, comprising chiefly the death mask of the prophet, also from descriptions by relatives and friends who carried his memory deeply embedded in consciousness.
"These relatives and friends have all pronounced the portrait an almost absolutely perfect one, and all express themselves as delighted with the result of Mr. Ramsey's work. Besides these more personal critics a number of others who have viewed the portrait have declared it to be a wonderful expression of personality as represented in known attributes of the subject. Among these, two well known students of physiognomy sat down before the portrait and wrote separate impressions of it which are given below:
"The first is by B. F. Cummings and the second by N. Y. Schofield.
"There is now on exhibition at the studio of Mr. Lewis A. Ramsey an oil portrait of the Prophet Joseph Smith, which will certainly create unusual interest as it comes to be better known among the cultured followers of that great reformer. At the very first glance the portrait produces a striking effect upon the beholder and this effect becomes more profound as the painting is more closely studied.
"Any person who believes in the mission of the great modern seer and has made a study of his life, works, teachings and personal peculiarities, is very likely to see in this picture a far better conception of its subject than he has ever formed in his own mind.
"We know that the prophet was a man of splendid physique and tall, athletic and well built figure: that his eyes were of a clear blue and his hair of light brown; that his language, manner and disposition were cheerful and sometimes jovial; that his nature was loving and affectionate; that he was intensely active, mentally and physically; that he was an eager student and an orator of rare power; and that he was as brave as a lion.
"Here in this portrait we have all of these traits brought out. Physical beauty of face and form, a cheerful spirit, a kindly almost loving expression of the mouth, a look of keen perception and rare intelligence overspreading the face, and an impression of courage and power are all impressively portrayed.
"Rarely does an artist
succeed in imparting to the eyes of his subject so life-like and remarkable an
expression as is here seen. ... This reproduction of the features [of] the
Prophet Joseph is pleasing and impressive in a very unusual degree and cannot
fail to add to the reputation of the artist. It is proper here to add that his
success was largely due to his diligence in obtaining from living persons and
other sources detailed information and descriptions of the prophet's personal
appearance, which he has most happily combined into a portrait that is probably
as faithful a likeness of the original as is now extant.
B. B. CUMMINGS.
"The original painting of the Prophet Joseph Smith, just finished by Mr. Ramsey, from which the accompanying photograph is taken, must be admitted a striking yet perfectly consistent departure from the usual likeness of the prophet with which we have become familiar, and whatever effect it may have upon the trained and skeptical eye of the art critic, the writer of course cannot say, but to the ordinary layman at least the production is decidedly new, pleasing and captivating.
"Without any personal knowledge of the prophet it is only possible to criticize the painting either by comparison with other pictures or from our conception of his personality obtained by a careful study of his life, his character and his achievements.
"We know for instance that, entirely apart from any consideration of divine aid, in his brief but eventful career, Joseph Smith exhibited to a marked degree certain well defined traits of character---some weak, some very strong, that necessarily distinguished him from all others, and in the intelligent, expressive features of this beautiful painting by Mr. Ramsey the student of human nature may readily detect one by one the various physical evidences of that well known power. Extraordinary results are accomplished only through the medium of extraordinary agencies, and certainly the artist in this instance has not overlooked them.
"The expression of the eye is really wonderful and many other features seem to call for special comment, but the limits of this brief article forbid detail.
"The writer disclaims any special knowledge of art, but will say that the happy blending of the different temperaments, the general contour of the head and every physiognomical [thing] are all clearly marked... and from the human nature standpoint, all are in exact accord with the well known and established characteristics of the prophet.
N. Y. SCHOFIELD."
Not all praised the portrait however. Leaders of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith's own descendants, criticized the work. This was to be expected though because their revered RLDS portrait of Joseph Smith, which had incorrect facial proportions, hung in their homes and became the main influence of their concept of Joseph Smith's appearance over the years.
At the time Lewis A. Ramsey completed the painting of Joseph Smith in 1910, the Salt Lake Tribune wanted to buy it for $1000. Mr. Ramsey went to President Joseph F. Smith of the Church and asked him what he should do. President Smith kindly said, "Oh, that portrait should belong to the Church" and that he would speak to the brethren about it. The Tribune then told Lewis, "Name your price." When President Smith learned of this, he wondered what the Tribune wanted the portrait for. Lewis' wife later said, "I have always thought they would have reproduced it and given it as a premium for subscriptions as at this time our people didn't think too kindly of the Tribune." Lewis would not even name a price to the Tribune but sold it to the Church for $1000, the amount first offered by the Tribune. Principle meant much more to Lewis than money. As to the copyright, it went to the Church with the purchase of the painting. But President Smith agreed that Lewis should have the full right of royalties and sales, except for when the Church published it. The entire financial return to the Ramsey's from royalties turned out to be less than $52.50.
Perhaps part of the reason for the low rate of return was some unauthorized reproductions outside of the Church. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and despite the Ramsey's sincerest efforts and frustrations in controlling the copyright and reproduction outside the Church, according to the copyright laws in existence at the time, the free use or imitation of the portrait seemed irrepressible. The painting appeared so authentic that some people have even mistakenly thought it was painted much earlier.
One of the most daring imitations was by Crawford Anderson. He saw, he said, a portrait of the prophet published in some magazine. He had two of the best artists in New York make a copy of the photograph in the magazine, changing the tie to avoid the copyright. Anderson said that the magazine got the picture from an old history in Ohio. He accused Lewis of getting his from the same place. After some discussion about putting this story in the Rotogravure section of the Deseret News, the old history in Ohio was sent for. There was the portrait as Anderson said, but under it was the statement, "Inserted by the permission of the artist, L. A. Ramsey." However, there were many of these copies of Anderson's sold.
In December of 1924, The Ladies' Home Journal printed a copy of Lewis A. Ramsey's portrait of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Unfortunately they had printed it without Lewis' knowledge and without his signature or copyright notice. When Lewis found out about it, he wrote a note to the editor, Barton W. Currie of Philadelphia, Penn., dated April 27, 1925:
"In the December, 1924 issue of the Ladies' Home Journal was printed a portrait of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This is a copy of my portrait of him, which I made and copyrighted in 1910. I note that both the sign of the copyright and my signature were omitted from the print. Inasmuch as the printing of this was a violation of the copyright law, I expect a royalty and a recognition of my work.
"L. A. Ramsey"
The following month, the Journal's lawyer responded in a letter dated May 19, 1925:
"Mr. Currie has asked me to reply to your letter of April 27th regarding reproduction in the December issue of the Ladies' Home Journal of a portrait of the Prophet Joseph Smith, painted by you.
"It is and always has been the policy of The Curtis Publishing Company in reproducing an artist's work to give proper credit even though the work may not be protected by copyright, and it is a matter of regret that this was not done in this case. You will appreciate, however, that The Curtis Publishing Company were innocent of any intentional infringement of copyright in as much as the print from which this reproduction was made contained no copyright notice, and such publication could therefore not be the basis of any claim for royalty.
"Yours very truly,
"Ralph B. Evans"
Of course there were many legitimate reproductions done, such as those done by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Ramsey's were most concerned about the display of the signature and copyright date as that was important to retaining copyright under the laws of the time and that Mr. Ramsey received due credit.
Mrs. Ramsey also speaks of good reproductions of the portrait in pamphlets and such in Europe and America: "Bro Frank I. Kooyman has a fine reproduction printed in Holland, maybe like [the] pamphlet written in Dutch. [The] signature shows plainly. So good ones can be made [from it]. I have a letter written to Bro Ramsey from J. Frank Pickering. He has supplied Bro Ramsey['s] portrait to the Writer's Project for reproduction in a Nauvoo guide." This latter publication occurred in 1938 and was part of a federal work project sponsored by the Works Progress Administration. They wrote:
"The Federal Writers' Project of Illinois has compiled a Guide to Nauvoo, Illinois, which is to be published shortly by A. C. McClurg and Company. We believe it would considerably enhance the interest of the book if we could secure your permission to reproduce your two fine paintings of Joseph Smith and Hiram Smith.
"The inclusion of these pictures was suggested by Mr. J. Frank Pickering, and is heartily concurred in by both Mr. John T. Frederick, regional Director of this Project, and myself. We would, of course, give you credit in the prefatory note of the book.
Mr. Pickering, a friend of Mr. Ramsey living in Chicago also states in his accompanying letter that Church President David O. McKay and President Bryant S. Hinckley of the Northern States Mission favorably reviewed this guide. He then adds, "This Guide cannot fail to give a good impression of our people to the tourist who will be its main purchasers, and your two pictures will make this impression even stronger."
Also, earlier in 1938, the Illinois Quest in Quincy did a story of the Mormons in Nauvoo and used L. A. Ramsey's paintings of Joseph and Hyrum Smith to illustrate it. The editor states, "We selected your pictures of the Smiths in preference to any others available." They were also interested that Mr. Ramsey was a native of Illinois.
And so, L. A. Ramsey's portrait of the Prophet Joseph Smith was widely reproduced in both Church and national publications for decades, both legitimately and otherwise. It appears to have been the Church's main image of Joseph Smith in the first half of the 20th century. Later, more modern portrayals would come into use, although many people have felt that some of these newer portraits are more glamorized renditions of Joseph Smith's appearance. Nevertheless, new fresh images of the prophet leader, as long as they strive to match his true likeness, can give us new insights to the man and his personality. In a way, they carry on what L. A. Ramsey did in his time, giving people a new and hopefully more accurate perspective of Joseph Smith. Church Museum curator Richard Oman said of the Ramsey portrait in 1977, "It remains today perhaps the best likeness of Joseph Smith. It is certainly one of the most introspective rather than monumental portraits ever done of the Prophet."
In 1911, Lewis A. Ramsey painted a portrait of the prophet's older brother, Hyrum Smith who was Church Patriarch and his companion in martyrdom. This association led to the Ramsey portraits of Joseph and Hyrum also becoming companion portraits, usually being shown together. The portrait of Hyrum was eventually hung next to Joseph's in the Salt Lake Temple. Mr. Ramsey made the portrait of Hyrum similar to the way he made the portrait of Joseph Smith --- from a death mask and an early engraving or photograph.
Artwork 3. "Hyrum Smith, the Patriarch", 1911, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in., Courtesy of the Museum of Church History and Art
What is less known is that Lewis A. Ramsey painted more than one version of his portraits of the Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Hyrum Smith, the Patriarch. He made black and white versions for reproduction, which are the ones that most people recognize and use. Lewis also sold these versions himself in both black and white, and in sepia (brown tones).
Artwork 4. "Joseph
Smith, the Prophet", 1910, black &
Artwork 5. "Hyrum Smith, The Patriarch", 1911, black & white
These are those printed in the front and back respectively in From Plowboy to Prophet
Black and white versions of the portraits of Joseph and Hyrum Smith appeared in the book From Plowboy to Prophet by William A. Morton, published in 1912, which Mr. Ramsey also illustrated. When L. A. Ramsey sold prints of the Prophet Joseph, he would often also sell one of Hyrum to go along with it. Other than the obvious color difference, there are noticeable differences between the black and white versions of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and their original color oil paintings.
Lewis A. Ramsey also made a smaller color portrait of Joseph Smith a few years later, which hangs in the Joseph Smith building at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The first large painting he made though has always hung in the Salt Lake Temple or its annex lobby. All others are probably imitations by others, particularly if they are unsigned and undated.
In recent years, more research has been done on what Joseph Smith looked like. Ephraim Hatch compared facial proportions in portraits of Joseph Smith, including the Ramsey painting, with the proportions found in Joseph's death mask and wrote a book about his findings and research. Though most of the research seems very good and his approach sound, unfortunately his placement of baselines for the Ramsey portrait is off, resulting in an inaccurately unfavorable conclusion that the portrait is short in the upper lip. Mr. Hatch asserts that the length of the nose from the brow to the tip of the nose would remain the same after death since it is bone and cartilage. This seems fine. Then by placing comparison lines from the brow and the end of the nose as common points of reference between the death mask and a work of art, one can visually judge how the other facial proportions measure up. But Mr. Hatch in his book places one of the lines at the bottom of the brow on the death mask and high on the brow of Ramsey portrait, causing other facial proportions to be off. Correcting this placement puts the portrait in correct proportion to the mask and the center of Joseph's lips in the Ramsey portraits fall into the correct place.
In comparing the Ramsey portrait of Joseph Smith in this way, one does notice how high the eyebrows ride in comparison to the top of the nose, but this may be a matter of facial expression. Joseph Smith's wife Emma is quoted to have said, "No painting of him could catch his expression, for his countenance was always changing to match his thoughts and feelings." So perhaps we can make some allowance for an expression in Joseph's eyebrows that is a bit different from that of the death mask.
Some sources say the L. A. Ramsey "adjusted for three days shrinkage" which suggests, if this is true, that he made conscious adjustments based on a belief at the time that the death masks were taken three days after the martyrdom. Recent research has demonstrated that the death masks were more likely taken within 24 hours of the martyrdom however. The faces in the Ramsey Joseph Smith portraits do appear a little more full than the somewhat more gaunt appearance of the death mask.
Figure 1. Comparison of Ramsey Portraits of Joseph Smith, the Prophet with the death mask
In conclusion, what cannot be contested concerning the Ramsey portrait is the ground broken in giving members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 20th century a fresh, new, more accurate and well-done representation of Joseph Smith, their first prophet leader. It fulfilled an urgent need at the time to have a painted image of him that they could be proud of and use in their publications.
Copyright 2005 John D. Hopkins
 Salt Lake Herald, 24 Dec. 1894; Dean C. Jessee, "Sources for the Study of Joseph Smith," in Mormon Americana: A Guide to Sources and Collection in the United States, ed. David J. Whitaker (Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, 1995), 7.
 Some sources attribute this painting to William W. Major and others to David Rogers. Ephraim Hatch is inconclusive on its artist in his work, Joseph Smith Portraits.
 According to Bathesheba Smith as mentioned in a letter draft from Mrs. Bessie B. Ramsey to "Brother Ashton".
 Junius F. Wells, "Portraits of Joseph Smith the Prophet," The Instructor, February 1930, 79--80.
 Joseph Smith Portraits, A Search for the Prophet's Likeness, p. 107; Hatch finds quite convincing differences in how closely the eyes are set and in size of the mouth and lips and their distance proportionally from the nose.
 Though there are claims that there is a photograph of Joseph Smith, recent research has determined this photograph to be that of the RLDS painting. (See Joseph Smith Portraits, A Search for the Prophet's Likeness, by Ephraim Hatch, pp 57--68)
 1953 letter to M. C. Josephson from Elizabeth P. B. Ramsey
 Lewis A. Ramsey Eulogy, by his son Ralph Ramsey.
 1953 Letter to M. C. Josephson by Elizabeth P. B. Ramsey
 1953 Letter to M. C. Josephson from Elizabeth P. B. Ramsey. This detail was criticized by one of Joseph Smith's children, President of the Reorganized Church in a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune. He said, "The only ring he ever wore was worn on his left hand." This contradicted the painting done during Joseph Smith's lifetime and Bathesheba Smith's testimony.
 1943 Letter to "Bro. Ashton" from Elizabeth P. B. Ramsey (Church Archives)
 Lewis A. Ramsey, Hawaiian Temple Muralist, James L. Hopkins. This story was corroborated by L. A. Ramsey's daughters Betty and Jean who had heard their mother tell the story many times.
 1939 Letter Draft to T. C. Romney from Mrs. L. A. Ramsey; 1943 Letter to "Bro. Ashton also from Mrs. Ramsey
 Juvenile Instructor 45, no. 4 [April 1910]: 153
 1943 Letter to "Bro. Ashton" from Mrs. L. A. Ramsey
 Once after attending a session in the Salt Lake Temple with my wife, we asked a supervising temple worker about some of the deeper meanings of the temple ordinances. As we walked down the hall conversing where the Ramsey paintings of Joseph and Hyrum now hang, I told him that my grandfather was the artist of these paintings. Observing our young age, he was quite skeptical and very certain that "these were brought over the plains from Nauvoo" in the 19th century. I'm not sure I ever convinced him otherwise, though the signature and date is on the paintings, albeit very faint.
 Church Archives 3.1
 Church Archives 3.2
 1953 Letter draft to M. C. Josephson by Mrs. Elizabeth P. B. Ramsey, (Church Archives 5596)
 Letter from James R. Phelan, Managing Editor, Federal Writer's Project in Chicago, dated November 30, 1938 (Church Archives 5596.7)
 Letter from J. Frank Pickering, dated November 30, 1938 (Church Archives 5596.7)
 Letter from Quest Publishing Company, dated July 27, 1938, (Church Archives 5596.7).
 Lewis A. Ramsey 1873--1941, Richard G. Oman
 1939 Letter Draft to T. C. Romney from Elizabeth P. B. Ramsey, Church Archives
 Lewis A. Ramsey Hawaiian Letters, p. 112
 Lewis A. Ramsey Hawaiian Letters, p. 112
 Stories about Joseph Smith the Prophet, comp. Edwin F. Parry (1934), 160.