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As the Civil War drew to a close in 1865, the Kentucky state legislature launched a competition for a monumental 7 x 11 foot portrait of the great statesman Henry Clay to be displayed in the Kentucky state capitol. The Kentucky legislature wished to honor the state's legendary proponent of Union with a larger-than-life portrait as the nation emerged from the Civil War.

New York artist Phineas Staunton entered the competition unsuccessfully, and his painting was soon returned from Kentucky to his hometown of Le Roy, New York. As years turned into decades, Henry Clay in the U.S. Senate fell into obscurity. In 2006 the painting was rediscovered in a storage area scheduled for renovation at the Le Roy Historical Society, and the Society presented the painting and its original frame to the U.S. Senate.

After 140 years, the condition of both frame and painting had deteriorated. Fine art conservators extensively restored the time-ravaged work, returning it to its original appearance. This extraordinary transformation has been carefully documented as part of the portrait’s long and difficult journey.

Today, this historically important painting hangs in the East Brumidi Stairway of the U.S. Capitol, a testament to Henry Clay’s indelible mark upon American history.

View the painting »