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West Virginia, West Virginia
May 4, 2012
From journal Finding the Founders
, West Virginia
August 18, 2005
I find the huge collection of portraits fascinating, even though I have intended for this
day to focus on 19th-century artists and their friends.
So here I am, destroying my day’s coherent timeline and retrogressing back to the
founding-fathers’ focus. I guess you just can’t get away from that in Philly!
The Second Bank building itself, designed by William Strickland, is beautiful, pale
marble built in Grecian style modeled after the Parthenon. Inside, the main gallery looks
I take photos of every portrait--and no guard stops me! Each one has a little biographical
note below it, and I find many that aren’t familiar to me. Even though I photograph the
biographical notes for future study, I am compelled to read them all here. Well, this is
the only place I know where one can read about so many of these guys in one place!
That is what takes me so long. Another room has more portraits (185 in all). If you want to
make sure you aren’t overlooking any important 18th-century notables, then you
want to spend more than an hour here.
After studying all the portraits in the front room, I stand in the center of the gallery and
look all around, scanning the collection. This is a good way to get a broad perspective on
everything that was going on in every walk of life over a span of just a few decades,
beginning with the Revolution. Heroes of all backgrounds are represented, even the
Mohawk Chief Thayendanegea. One group represents members of the Philosophical
Society, founded by Ben Franklin. These include David Rittenhouse, astronomer;
William Clark, explorer, cartographer, and botanist; and Robert Fulton, inventor of the
steamboat. Here is Meriwether Lewis:
Another room displays several Supreme Court Justices, and I am especially interested in
John Marshall, since I have been reading about Thomas Jefferson’s dispute with him and
his failure to convict Aaron Burr. I think he looks mean, and I side with Jefferson
anyway on the matter of Supreme Court autonomy.
Since my visit, I have discovered an interesting note on Peale. A student of Benjamin
West before West moved to England. Peale wrote to him after the Revolution to ask if
there was demand in England for portraits of George Washington, and West replied that
the Brits would also like paintings of American military uniforms. Notes in the gallery,
too, instruct us on how artists managed their careers in pre-tech times.
From journal Philly Had Signers and Singers--The Poets!