Historical Highlights

Portraits of Forts for the Committee on Military Affairs

June 20, 1870
Portraits of Forts for the Committee on Military Affairs Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
On this date, noted artist Seth Eastman met with John A. Logan, chairman of the House Committee on Military Affairs, to discuss a series of paintings for the committee's hearing room. Eastman, a retired Army general and accomplished landscape painter, had recently completed a commission of nine paintings for the House Committee on Indian Affairs, and Military Affairs requested similar services. In an 1867 discussion of artists working at the Capitol, Representative Robert Schenck of Ohio commented on the talents of Eastman, “We have been paying for decorations, some displaying good taste and others of a tawdry character, a great deal of money to Italian artists [e.g. Constantino Brumidi] and others, while we have American talent much more competent for the work. Among others possessing native talent, is General Eastman.” Eastman was awarded the Military Affairs commission resulting in 17 paintings of important garrisons located around the United States. The subjects encompass forts from all regions—including three of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, both before and after the Civil War, thus emphasizing the reunification of the states. Chairman Logan requested specifically that Eastman not depict battles, but focus on the architecture of the forts themselves. The fort paintings Eastman produced are serene scenes of daily life taking place at the forts, often with an emphasis on the softly lit landscapes and surrounding water. The 17 paintings were first displayed in H208, the Military Affairs room in the Capitol. After 1908, they moved with the committee to the new House Office Building, where they remained until the 1940s. At that time, they were moved back to the Capitol, where they were publicly displayed in the central West Front corridor.

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