The Capitol Dome

2018 Dome 55.1

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32 THE CAPITOL DOME The signatories of these two documents represented the artistic elite of Philadelphia, including Henry Carey, president of the Art Union and noted art collector and publisher; John Sartain, manager of the Art Union and the city's leading printmaker; and the painters and Pennsylvania Acade- micians Thomas Sully, Rembrandt Peale, John Neagle, J.R. Lambdin, William Trost Richards, J.B. Waugh, and Paul Weber. In short, Philadel- phia employed all its artistic firepower in this attempt to install a painting in the Rotunda. From the perspective of the city's artists and art support- ers, this valiant attempt was met by disappointment and derision. How- ever, this failed attempt at a commission reveals much about the national artistic and legislative processes from the 1830s to the 1850s, and the way these two seemingly disparate realms were intimately intertwined. Many people today do not tend to think of artists actively shaping our nation's history, but that is exactly what Peter F. Rothermel (1812–1895) and his contemporaries—including Emanuel Leutze (1816–1868), John Gadsby Chapman (1808–1889), William Henry Powell (1823–1879), Robert Walter Weir (1803–1889), and John Vanderlyn (1775–1852)— were attempting to do in securing and executing paintings for the Rotunda from the 1830s to the 1850s (fig. 2). As American painter Eman- uel Leutze wrote from Dusseldorf, Germany in 1854 to Montgomery C. Meigs (1816–1892), army engineer and supervisor of the construction of the new Capitol Dome and wings from 1853 to 1859: …who can teach like the artists? Give the boy a book of the deeds of his fathers and as he turns slowly leaf by leaf, will not the first impressions be lost before he received the third and Fig. 1b. A second petition from Philadelphia artists (see also fig. 1a) Fig. 2. Visitors encounter eight history paintings in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, including (from left) Discovery of the Mississippi by De Soto by William Powell, Landing of Columbus by John Vanderlyn, and Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Weir.

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