U.S. Senate Commission on Art (2006)
The United States Catalogue of Graphic Art marks the first comprehensive publication of the approximately 1,000 prints that constitute the Senate's collection. Offering a variety of perspectives on the Senate of the 19th and 20th centuries, the prints provide insight into a time quite different than the media-saturated world of today.
While politics was a major topic in the post-Revolutionary War press, limitations in printing technology meant that engravings or other visuals were uncommon. Thus, most people formed their views of the new government through written or oral sources. However, in 1839 with the introduction of the daguerreotype, the country was familiarized with the faces of notable senators such as Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun. By the early 1850s further innovation in engraving procedures enabled publishers to create engravings in hours rather than days or weeks. At the same time, the growth of railroads and improvements in roads allowed for relatively rapid distribution of illustrated magazines such as Harper's Weekly, The Graphic,
Puck, and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, and for the first time readers could "see" an event within a week, and later within days of it happening.
Like the print and broadcast media of today, these illustrated news magazines included both hard news and softer features, and the graphic art catalogue reflects this coverage mix. The catalogue includes prints depicting important events of the day such as the debate over slavery, the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson, and presidential inaugurations. But also featured are prints capturing the daily rhythms of the Senate such as the crowded Capitol corridors, Senate pages delivering documents, lobbyist pleading their case, meals in the Senate dining room, and idyllic scenes of the Capitol building and grounds.
The catalogue is organized into eight thematic chapters: Senate Chamber, Capitol Interior, Capitol Exterior & Grounds, Senate Art, Portraits, Group Portraits, Beyond Capitol Hill, and Political Cartoons & Caricatures. Detailed information is given for each print, including title, creator, date of publication, printing technique, and dimensions. In addition, accompanying approximately 30 prints are short essays giving background and context for the scene, people, or events depicted in the illustration. For the chapter on political cartoons, which includes the work of such notable artists as Thomas Nast and Joseph Keppler there is an introductory essay as well as brief commentaries on 15 cartoons.
This catalogue will undoubtably become a valuable resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the history of the Senate, the Capitol, and American political history.
The catalogue is available through GPO online. The catalogue may also be available at a federal depository library in your state.