Jean Alexis Theslöf (known as Teslof in America) was a renowned portrait artist best known for his works of Presidents Herbert Hoover, Richard M. Nixon and Dwight D. Eisenhower. He also made many powerful seascapes and religious paintings, which were popular during the last half of the twentieth century.
On June 25, 1884 Jean Theslöf was born in Uleaborg, Finland. He was the youngest son of Count Alexander Theslöf and Lydia Malmberg Theslöf. His siblings included Georg Theslöf, Editor of the Hufvudsbladet & creator of one of the first films, “Finlandia”, Aili Theslöf, Founder of the Marta Movement, Einar Theslöf, founder and owner the Bostrum Shipping companies and Winter War Five Star General Gösta Theslöf.
Young Jean was considered a Renaissance man, excelling in art and sports and winning Olympic gold for Finland as a pistol marksman in his youth. As a member of the nobility, Theslöf received a classical education and was encouraged to study piano and singing by family friend Jean Sibelius. Theslöf then studied as a baritone in Italy, auditioning at Bayreuth, where Cosima Wagner mentored him in learning the Wagnerian heldentenor repertoire. Overwhelmed by Wagnerian expectations, young Theslöf chose to study architecture and sculpture with Hildebrandt in Berlin, eventually finishing a degree in Architecture at the University of Helsinki but choosing painting as his career.
On a visit to the United States, Theslöf met Philadelphia soprano, Elisabeth Wilson. She followed him to Helsinki, where they married and had a son, Gene (olympic ice skater, most known for his role in “Sun Valley” with his partner, Sonja Henie and his marriage, to olympic ice skating champion and long-term touring Icecapades co-star, Vivi Anne Hulten). The couple returned to the States, after Theslöf was offered a recording contract with Columbia Records.
Click here to listen to Jean Theslöf singing “Oolanin Sota” (the War of Aaland), Victor Records, 1924
For a brief time after the demise of his first marriage and before his painting career gained full momentum, Theslöf served as Finnish consul in New York. During this time, Theslöf met and wed Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Grace Olcott Divine (who simplified the name to Teslof). Divine starred in over 40 stage roles at the Met and the couple were frequently heard by locals at their Bar Harbor summer house vocalizing with close friends and neighbors, Kristen Flagstad, Karin Branzell, Lauritz Melchior and Fredrich Schor.
Theslöf and Divine had two daughters, Aili Teslof, the first female umpire at the U.S. Open & Former Panam Goodwill Ambassador and former actress (most known for the Untouchables, the Evergladers, Burns and Allen regular and Morgus the Magnificient) Palm Beach Opera &Palm Beach Opera Ballet founder, “Young Person’s Guide to the Ballet” author, Jeanne Ariane Theslof Csonka, widow of Dr. Paul Csonka.
Jean Sibelius, Jean Sibelius Museum, Finland
Richard Nixon, Richard Nixon Library, San Clemente, CA
President Herbert Hoover, the Anglers Club, Key Largo, FL
National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
‘The Very Last Supper”, University of Central Florida Museum of Art
“Ecce Homo” Flagler Museum, Palm Beach, FL
Portrait of Edgar Cayce, Cayce Foundation, Virginia Beach, VA
Portraits of Irene Harrison Seiberling, Seiberling collection, Akron, Ohio
Portrait of George Merrie, Westfield Tennis Club, Westfield, NJ
Theslöf Family House, Theslőf Mansion House Museum, Kotka, Finland
the Anglers Club “Commodores”, Key Largo, FL
Gulded Sunset, Hoagy Carmichael Collection, Indiana
Stardust Dreams, Hoagy Carmichael Collection, Indiana
Dr. John Nance, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Recorded Finnish folk songs, Columbia Records
Translated Finnish folk song “Tuku, Tuku Lampaitani” recorded by Marian Anderson and Kosti Vehanen