Portraits of Lafayette & Washington
Portrait of Marquis de Lafayette
The full-length portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette, the first foreign dignitary to address a joint meeting of the Congress, was presented to the House by French artist Ary Sheffer in 1824. The portrait hangs to the left of the Speaker’s rostrum, as it has since the opening of the current House Chamber in 1858. Lafayette, a French aristocrat, made important contributions to American success in the Revolutionary War, particularly in his role as a strategist for the Yorktown campaign and his diplomatic work in securing French aid for the struggling American forces. The Sheffer portrait places him outdoors within a landscape, in informal contemporary clothing, emphasizing his qualities as a man of action rather than his wealth or power.
Portrait of George Washington
This portrait of George Washington hangs on the Speaker’s right-hand side in the House Chamber. It was commissioned in 1834 from John Vanderlyn, a leading American portrait artist in the first half of the 19th century, as a pendant to Ary Sheffer’s Marquis de Lafayette. As was common practice in 19th century portraiture, Vanderlyn modeled this painting after Gilbert Stuart’s authoritative life portrait of Washington called the Munro–Lenox portrait. The two surviving versions by Stuart are housed in the New York Public Library and in Rhode Island’s Capitol building. In addition to showing a reliable likeness of the first president, this composition shows Washington as a statesman, in an elegant, dramatic manner. Washington’s sword is sheathed at this side, indicating his retirement from military leadership, and the hope of peaceful times ahead for the nation. The legs of the table on which Washington’s hand rests are in the form of fasces, symbolizing authority and unity common throughout the Capitol.