David John Gue was not the typical artist of the 19th Century—although he exhibited a keen artistic sense as a child, he did not become an artist until he was in his fifties. He was born in Brooklyn, New York and as a teenager, moved to Iowa where he worked on his brother’s farm. A few years later, he studied law and was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1860. During his law career, his name became linked to that of John Brown of the infamous Harper’s Ferry raid, whose life he unsuccessfully sought to save. Following the Civil War, he left his law practice to open a pharmacy in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Finally, he yielded to the siren’s call of art, sold his pharmacy and began his painting career in earnest.
He was self-taught; however, his skill was recognized, as he went on to paint such Iowa notables as John A Kasson, Bishop H. W. Lee, Governors Samuel Merrill, Cyrus Carpenter and William Larrabee. On a national level, he painted the portraits of Presidents Lincoln and Grant and Henry Ward Beecher, the famous abolitionist and several Supreme Court justices. Although he may be best known for his portraits, his skill as a seascape painter rivals that of William Trost Richards, one of the finest 19th Century seascape painters. Gue was a member of the Salmagundi Club in New York City, one of the oldest art organizations in the United States.