State Art Collection 1931.3-7, 9-10
7 busts. Marble.
Average: 35” high x 24” wide x 17” deep
Today’s visitors to the rotunda at the Virginia State Capitol are unlikely to consider how the seven marble busts depicting Virginia-born presidents came to sit in niches along the walls. The busts seem to be a natural addition to the space, complementing the design and decorations around them. Unlike most works in the State Art Collection, however, the busts are the result of a single act of legislation and the efforts of one governor, John Garland Pollard, who made their acquisition an objective for his new administration.
The rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol has housed two important pieces of statuary since 1796—the full-length marble statue of George Washington and the marble bust of the Marquis de Lafayette, both by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828). Prior to 1930 there was no clear policy or plan to fill the eight architectural niches. The State Art Commission attempted to create some guidelines in 1917 when proposals to add commemorative bronze plaques to the rotunda came before the General Assembly. The commission stipulated that only busts should go in the niches, and that only marble should be used, as bronze would “detract from the beauty of the rotunda interior.”
In 1926 the General Assembly asked the governor to appoint a committee to create a list of names of “Virginia’s most … Read the rest