In 1896 the Joint Committee on the Library, acting under a May 13, 1886, resolution, authorized the purchase of a bust of Vice President John C. Breckinridge. On advice from the Breckinridge family and Kentucky Senator Joseph Clay Stiles, sculptor James Voorhees was selected for the project. A year earlier, Voorhees had completed the Senate’s portrait bust of Vice President Richard M. Johnson. His model of the Breckinridge bust was promptly approved, and the work was soon carved in marble.
Talented and versatile, Voorhees was a writer, poet, actor, and sculptor. He also completed studies of Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon Bonaparte, commissioned by the State Department for the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. For 21 years, Voorhees acted as personal secretary to his father, Senator Daniel W. Voorhees of Indiana. The artist’s memorial bust of his father, completed as late as 1928, was created to honor the senator’s work in support of funding a Library of Congress building, which opened in 1897.