National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Nikola Tesla: European\Croatian
Born Smiljan, Croatia
The brilliant inventor Nikola Tesla captivated New York City’s celebrity press with such feats as introducing alternating-current electricity, lighting the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, and harnessing and generating power from Niagara Falls. His largest project (and biggest failure) was the attempted invention of wireless broadcasting, which was financed in large part by J. Pierpont Morgan. At one point, Tesla was touted as being “greater even than Edison.” A showman whose electrical demonstrations dazzled both scientific and popular audiences, Tesla was a dandified member of society who became wealthy off of profits from his patents, making many enemies along the way. Marius de Zayas’s unsettling, shadowy charcoal depicts Tesla in a coat and hat, as if he were striding purposefully along a dark street. But the impassioned intensity of his stride and his angular, proud profile hint at both his brilliance and an eccentric, unbalanced streak that was already apparent in Tesla’s character.