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The Signing of the American Constitution by Albert Herter

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Richard Dobbs Spaight (North Carolina) John Rutledge (South Carolina) Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania) Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania) William Blount (North Carolina) Charles Pinckney (South Carolina) Gunning Bedford, Jr. (Delaware) George Read (Delaware) George Washington (Virginia) Hugh Williamson (North Carolina) James Madison (Virginia) James Wilson (Pennsylvania) Alexander Hamilton (New York) William Few (Georgia)

Click on a delegate to display his biography. Click here to enlarge.

Albert Herter was born in New York in 1871 and died in 1950. He and his wife are well known for their weave tapestries of Manhattan. Their son, Christian Herter, was Secretary of State in the Eisenhower Administration.

Four of Herter’s mural paintings hang in the Supreme Court Room of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. The mural on the north wall is the signing of the Magna Carta (with son Christian holding on to the collar of the dog in the foreground); the mural on the west wall replicates Augustus listening to the pleas under Roman law; and the mural on the south wall portrays the trial of Chief Oshkosh.

We are particularly interested in the fourth mural, which is actually the first one that is visible, on making an entrance to the Supreme Court Room. This is Herter’s rendition of the signing of the Constitution at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787. The painting hangs above the place where the seven member Wisconsin Supreme Court sits to hand down their decisions.

View of the Herter Mural with the Wisconsin Supreme Court Bench in the Foreground

View of the Herter Mural with the Wisconsin Supreme Court Bench in the Foreground

What makes this painting different from the earlier Stearns and Rossiter paintings and the later Christy and Glanzman paintings is the small number of delegates who are present at the signing. There are nine to the left of Washington, seated in the “rising sun” chair, and nine to the right of the General. Thus, Herter paints only 19 of the 39 actual signers. And of these 19 signers, it is virtually impossible to identify six because their profile is covered or the delegate has his back to the viewer. Accordingly, we are drawn to the presence of 13 delegates.

But only five delegates are clearly identifiable: 1) George Washington in the rising sun chair; 2) Benjamin Franklin on Washington‘s right and in the front left of the portrait talking with two other delegates; 3) sitting at desk to the left of Washington below the portraits of the Framers on the wall is the partly obscured James Wilson; 4) James Madison, with coat on arm, is situated to the left of Washington and in the front right of the portrait talking to someone 5) that looks like Alexander Hamilton.

Is that Thomas Jefferson to Washington’s left talking with an unidentifiable delegate?