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Presidents in Art

Oil painting of a historical scene including several Presidents

Hardly a week goes by in which a visitor touring the Capitol doesn’t ask one of the Visitor Services staff, “Where does the president sleep?” The Capitol is, to be sure, a large, white, monumental structure in Washington, D.C., but it is not the president’s residence. The Capitol and the White House are different buildings, being, respectively, the homes of the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.

Nevertheless, the nation’s chief executive has had strong ties to the Capitol since 1793, when President George Washington selected the design for the building and laid its first cornerstone. Today, almost half of the nation’s presidents are honored in works of art in the Capitol. Each of the Capitol’s three principal floors has depictions of presidents, ranging from a colossal bust of Lincoln in the first-floor Crypt to busts and portraits on the third floor of the Senate extension.

Not surprisingly, George Washington is the most frequently depicted subject, appearing nearly two dozen times in statues, busts, framed portraits, murals, and even a stained glass window. Nine works represent Abraham Lincoln; Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Garfield are among other presidents depicted multiple times. The greatest concentration of presidents is in the Rotunda, where nine statues, two framed history paintings, the canopy fresco, and two scenes in the frescoed frieze depict men who served as president—five of them being George Washington.

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