The Capitol Dome

2018 Dome 55.1

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T he legendary Henry T. Rainey was dead. A sud- den angina attack gripped the chest of the fortieth Speaker of the House of Representatives as he lay in bed recovering from pneumonia on the evening of 19 August 1934. Three physicians, waiting bedside at his sprawling Illinois farm, could not save the chief Dem- ocratic leader who had presided over Pres. Franklin Roosevelt's famous "Hundred Days" and "New Deal." The following day, the nation mourned as the Capitol's flag flew at half-mast, for this congressional stalwart of 30 years—described as "picturesque" and "a kindly man"—would never be back. 2 Rainey's wife, Ella, hastily planned a grand funeral in their hometown of Carrollton, nearly quadrupling its population with hundreds of dignitaries and thou- sands of citizens. Roosevelt paid his respects, arriving aboard his private train from Washington, D.C. 3 Meanwhile, in New York City—high atop a duplex studio apartment overlooking Central Park West—a celebrity illustrator turned portrait painter perched his portly body on a simple wooden stool and pulled the laces of his smock tight. In his left hand, he gripped a long sable brush; in his right, a sizable palette smeared with a rainbow of colors. Before him stood a tall easel with a blank canvas reflecting the north light but clouded in a smoky haze billowing from the burlwood pipe he clenched between his teeth (fig. 1). Howard Chandler Christy was about to start his favorite paint- ing—which he always considered to be his next— never envisioning Rainey's death would soon involve him and lead to his greatest work, the largest painting in Fig. 1. Christy in his studio apartment in the 1930s work- ing on a portrait of model Mrs. Hobart Cole Ramsey [née Collette Nicks] (1918–2010), who later founded the Health Hearing Foundation. Christy's finished portrait depicts Collette as a blonde, her natural hair color. THE "BAREFOOT BOY OF THE BLUE MUSKINGUM" How Howard Chandler Christy Won the 1935 "Battle of the Portraits" in the U.S. Capitol, Leading to Its Largest Painting— The Scene at the Signing of the U.S. Constitution by James Philip Head "The man who really does the big things breaks every rule under the sun and is himself." —Howard Chandler Christy 1 2 SEE NOTES FOR IMAGE CREDITS. THE CAPITOL DOME

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