The Capitol Dome

2018 Dome 55.1

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34 THE CAPITOL DOME navel—or compass stone (fig. 3)—of the American republic. History painting as practiced in the antebellum United States was indebted to eighteenth-century British practices, and was modernized by Benjamin West, a native of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, who was PAFA's first honorary academician and the successor of Joshua Reynolds at the Royal Academy in London. 6 When he painted his iconic American painting Penn's Treaty with the Indians (1771–72) (fig. 4), he was in fact living in London, the metropolis of the British Empire. West updated history painting to include the recent his- tory of the "New World." Despite being pioneered by a young man from Pennsylvania, modern history painting got off to somewhat of a rough start in the United States after its brilliant debut in London. West's American stu- dents strove valiantly to bring history painting to the attention and admiration of the American people. The first generation of national rather than colonial art- ists, including Rembrandt Peale, Samuel F.B. Morse, Washington Allston, and John Trumbull, working in the 1810s and 1820s, all tried to bring history paint- ing to the American people—with mixed success. While much has been written on the four paint- ings Trumbull completed for the Capitol Rotunda in the early Republic, the four additional paintings installed throughout the 1840s and 1850s have not received sustained recent scholarship. 7 As early as 4 January 1828, in an Annual Report of the commissioner of public buildings, Charles Bulfinch, then Architect of the Capitol, wrote: "In closing this report, I ask leave to add, that the Rotundo cannot be considered complete, while the four large panels are suffered to remain vacant; and to suggest a hope, that the measures may be taken to supply them with paintings, comfortable to the others, on great national subjects." 8 Following this report was a two-day debate on the matter. But owing to partisan politics, the panels were still bare in 1834 when the Twenty-third Congress considered a joint resolution to employ "four native artists" for the job. In the House debate, Rep. John Quincy Adams (MA) doubted whether four native artists could be found to complete the panels. This was mightily objected to, with Aaron Ward (NY) citing a large number of artists Fig. 4. Penn's Treaty with the Indians by Benjamin West (1783–1820)

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