Born in Alsace, France, Christian Schussele studied at the Strasbourg Academy from 1840 to 1842 and then in Paris under Paul Delaroche. In 1848, he immigrated to the United States, settling in Philadelphia. Although an established chromolithographer abroad, in America, he concentrated on painting, particularly history subjects and portraits, which he regularly exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He went on to be the President of the Artists' Fund Society of Philadelphia, a member of the Philadelphia Sketch Club, and to hold a Chair of Professorship at the Pennsylvania Academy. Several of Schussele's paintings are in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., including Men of Progress (1859), depicting notable inventors of the nineteenth century, and Washington Irving and his Literary Friends at Sunnyside (1864). His work is also in the collections of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma; the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and the Huntington Library Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California.
The present work depicts Civil War General George Brinton McClellan (1826-1885). After proving himself in the Corps of Army Engineers during the Mexican War, and as an adept organizer in the position of Chief Engineer of the Illinois Central Railroad, McClellan was appointed Major General of the Union forces by President Abraham Lincoln. During the early days of the Civil War, he was a successful leader in the training of an efficient army. However, McClellan's tendency to overestimate the enemy's forces in his strategies led to a famously flawed engagement at Antietam, Maryland.
Pictured here surveying the chaos of that battle from atop his steed, McClellan is captured during a moment of what would be his last engagement of the war. After the Union forces' poor showing at Antietam, McClellan was removed from his position. Yet, his public service career was not over, for he went on to become the Governor of New Jersey from 1878-1881. A very similar portrait by Schussele is in the collection of the New Jersey Historical Society.