In 1876 members of the Senate commissioned artist Freeman Thorp to paint a portrait of Isaac Bassett as a “testimonial of their personal regard and of their high appreciation of the intelligence, the promptness, the accuracy, and the conscientious fidelity” that had exemplified Bassett’s 45 years of service up to that point. In his memoirs Bassett himself describes the simple, touching presentation ceremony:
Soon after the adjournment of the Senate on the 3rd day of August 1876, Mr. Ferry, the President of the Senate, came up to me and said, “Captain, I want to see you for a few minutes in the Marble Room.” I, in my usual way, said, “Certainly, sir,” and made a polite bow. He then put his arm in mine and led me to the Marble Room, and to my surprise, I saw quite a crowd. He turned my attention to a portrait that had been covered over and made this remark, “Look at that picture and see if you can recognize it.” I must confess that I never was so embarrassed in my life before. . . . I knew not what to say, for I was taken by surprise, not knowing that any such thing was in contemplation; it was kept a perfect secret from me. . . . How can I express my kindness to all of the senators? Words cannot do it; my heart overflows with gratitude to them all.
Exactly how Thorp completed the painting without arousing Bassett’s suspicions is unknown. Perhaps the artist worked from a photograph, because there is an existing image of Bassett that resembles the painting. In 1991 Elizabeth Rummel Crosby, Isaac Bassett’s great-granddaughter, donated the painting of Bassett to the U.S. Senate.
Thorp was born in Ohio and worked extensively in photography before turning to oil painting. Over the years he executed a number of portraits of prominent individuals, including the Senate’s painting of Abraham Lincoln. Seven of Thorp’s works are also located in the House wing of the Capitol.