In 1898 the Joint Committee on the Library chose sculptor William McCauslen to execute a likeness of John Tyler, following the recommendation of two of Tyler’s sons, Lyon Gardiner Tyler and Representative David Gardiner Tyler. In the spring of 1896, they had seen and admired a model for a bust of their father in McCauslen’s Washington, D.C., studio.
The original 1886 legislation establishing a Vice Presidential Bust Collection had called for busts to be installed in the gallery-level niches of the Senate Chamber, but by 1897 all of these spaces had been filled. On January 6, 1898, the Senate passed an amending resolution authorizing additional vice presidential busts for placement “in the Senate wing of the Capitol.” The Tyler bust was the first work commissioned and acquired under this new legislation.
Born and trained in Ohio, McCauslen was both a painter and a sculptor, though few of his works are known today. The only important examples of his public sculpture are the Tyler bust and those of Andrew Johnson and William R. King, also in the Senate’s Vice Presidential Bust Collection.
Because the subject was long deceased, the Tyler commission presented McCauslen with a distinct challenge. Several pictorial resources existed, the best known of which was probably George P.A. Healy’s oil on canvas portrait, painted from life in 1859 and now part of the White House collection. However, because McCauslen was charged with depicting Tyler as vice president, the artist apparently searched for an earlier life portrait. He found one in a lithograph drawn from life and published by Charles Fenderich in 1841, just after Tyler’s accession to the presidency. In pose, facial contour, and costume, McCauslen’s marble portrait of Tyler bears a strong resemblance to Fenderich’s lithograph. The completed bust was placed in the Capitol in 1898.