Historical Highlights

The Portrait of Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks

October 29, 1997
The Portrait of Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Serving 21 terms in the House of Representatives, Jack Brooks of Texas served as chairman of three committees: the Joint Committee on Congressional Operations, the Committee on Government Operations, and the Committee on Judiciary.
On this date, the House unveiled a portrait of Representative Jack Brooks of Texas, marking six years of service as chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary. Like many portraitists working with busy statesmen, artist Jason Bouldin took photographs and drew quick compositional sketches of Brooks. He returned to his studio to create the final likeness from this raw material. In all his portraits, Bouldin tried “to render not only an outward likeness of the subject, but also that person’s inner presence and character.” With 42 years on the Judiciary Committee, Brooks earned a reputation as a vigorous legislator. His colleague, Representative Frank Horton of New York, once recounted the image of Brooks “grabbing the side of the podium as though he is ready to strike the witness. But he focuses on the subject, he gets the information, and he gets to the bottom of the issue. That, after all, is what we are all about.” To capture the subject’s forceful and forthright approach, the artist chose to portray Brooks facing the viewer, at ease but with the suggestion of imminent movement. The chairman’s gavel rests on a table beside him, and is the painting’s only emblem of his position. By the end of the 20th century, access to televised committee hearings had made the image of a gavel-pounding chairman a well-known one. With the public’s greater familiarity with the chairman’s role in hearings, the gavel became a popular element in House portraits. Another common sight was Brooks with a cigar in his hand. The House’s other official portrait of Brooks, painted by Bouldin’s father, Marshall Bouldin, to mark his chairmanship of the Committee on Government Operations, shows the Texan wielding a cigar rather than a gavel, while in Jason Bouldin's image he holds both items. For more than a century, the House of Representatives has collected portraits of the men and women who lead its committees. These images, a number of them produced by major American artists, provide a vital visual record of House history.

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