Willie P. Mangum was president pro tempore of the Senate when this portrait by James Reid Lambdin was painted. The work was apparently commissioned by Mangum or his family because it was sent to Walnut Hall, Mangum’s home in North Carolina, shortly after it was executed. The painting remained in the Mangum family until it was acquired by the Senate in 1978. According to correspondence in the Willie Person Mangum Papers at the Library of Congress, Lambdin asked to use a committee room in the basement of the U.S. Capitol as a studio whenever the space was free. Permission was granted in early March 1844, and Lambdin soon wrote Mangum to arrange for sittings. The work was finished in three months.
Mangum’s magnetic personality, charm, and political acumen, as reported by his contemporaries, are effectively captured by Lambdin. Seated on a chair, the senator looks steadily at the viewer, his straight mouth, aquiline nose, and broad forehead conveying intelligence and dignity. Only the warm flesh tones and the slight elegance of the curls ornamenting his right temple modify this direct depiction.
A prolific painter, James Reid Lambdin was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, studied in Philadelphia with Thomas Sully, and returned to his native city in 1827. There, in the manner of Charles Willson Peale, Lambdin painted portraits and established a private museum containing both art and natural history. Beginning in 1859, he served on the commission to oversee the decoration of the U.S. Capitol extension. He was the father of artist George Cochran Lambdin, who was admired for his still-life paintings.