Published: July 1, 2003
A portrait of James Bernard Shannon and two of his sons, James and Thomas, was recently shipped from Paris, France.
The work, painted in Norwich in 1879 by unknown artists, is the gift to the Slater Memorial Museum by Baron Thomas Shannon Foran, Duc de Saint-Bar, grandson of the sitter. Previous gifts to the museum from the baron include the portrait of Jean Graham by Sir James J. Shannon and a portrait of Baron Michelham by Sir Luke Fildes, both of which hang prominently in the museum’s Louis and Mrs Grace Sears Gallery.
Shannon was a wealthy industrialist who lived in Norwich from 1867 until his death in 1917. Shortly after he settled in Norwich, he established a business on Water Street, which he operated until 1904, when he moved the establishment to a brick building he had erected at the corner of Market and Commerce Streets. He began investing in real estate in 1892 and for 25 years the work he did inspired and transformed the city.
He bought, built and remodeled structures and became one of the town’s prime developers. He also invested in local manufacturing enterprises, was a director of the First National Bank, Norwich Board of Trade and was the state representative to the Democratic National Committee when Grover Cleveland was nominated for United States President in 1884.
In 1898 he built the first Shannon building, a five-story edifice at the corner of Main and Shetucket Streets in downtown Norwich. The building was destroyed by fire on February 9, 1909. Despite his personal loss of approximately $80,000, he began to rebuild the structure on an even larger scale. One year after the fire, the new building was ready for occupancy, a model of fireproof construction.
Other new endeavors of his included the Marguerite block in 1901, an apartment and store building that was the first one in the downtown area, the Auditorium Theater and the Auditorium Hotel, a four-story building replete with 14 stores and a roof garden. Shannon was recorded as the largest individual builder and the city’s largest taxpayer of his time. In addition to his Norwich investments, he owned a woolen mill in Baltic and was an investor in four other textile mills.
Shannon married Catherine Francis Cunningham in May 1870 in Norwich. She died in May 1894. They were the parents of six children. The two oldest, James B. and Thomas, are included in the portrait. Baron Foran is the son of Madeleine Valorie Shannon Foran, the only child of a second marriage. She married John K. Foran of New London.
The painting is now on display in the museum’s Joseph P. Gualtieri Gallery, which also houses portraits and landscapes of Nineteenth Century Norwich.
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