Accession number: 1957.39
Richmond during the winter of 1829–30 was crowded with celebrities assembled to revamp the state constitution. Former presidents James Madison and James Monroe, future president John Tyler, and Chief Justice John Marshall were among the delegates. Their presence led to its being called the last meeting of giants of the Revolutionary generation.
The artist George Catlin was seized with the idea of capturing the likenesses of the assembled statesman in a single grand style painting, copies of which would be sold as prints.
Eventually, all 101 delegates went to Catlin's studio to have their portraits painted in watercolors. Then Catlin painted this oil version on a walnut board. Catlin slightly enlarged the heads in proportion to the bodies to give a good likeness of each man. Catlin's miniatures are the only surviving portraits of many of the delegates. No prints ever were made, but Catlin went on to win fame as a painter of American Indians.
Over the convention there was a heavy pall of pessimism. "Whither has the Genius of Virginia fled?" asked William Leigh, who provided his own answer, saying "of all the old States, none has contributed more to the peopling of the new States than Virginia. This is the reason of what gentlemen call the decline of Virginia." Leigh blamed Virginia's troubles on the North. "The influenza," he said, "the small pox, the Hessian fly, the circuit court system, universal suffrage—all come from the North." By 1830, men such as Leigh considered themselves as something besides Virginians and Americans—they were southerners.