Gallery of Governors
The tradition of commissioning California’s gubernatorial portraits began in 1879, when the State Legislature selected artist William Cogswell to paint portraits of several former governors.
A Presence of Great Leadership
Portraits of two of our nation’s most respected leaders grace the Senate and Assembly Chambers. President George Washington’s portrait resides in the Senate Chambers, while President Abraham Lincoln’s portrait resides in the Assembly Chambers.
This painting of George Washington that hangs above the dais in the Senate Chambers is a copy of the famous Munro-Lenox Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, likely painted by the artist’s daughter Jane Stuart in the mid-nineteenth century. The painting was presented to the Senate in 1854. Legend has it that the painting was rescued from the Capitol’s temporary home at the Sacramento County Courthouse during a great fire that year.
This portrait of Abraham Lincoln, painted by William Cogswell, overlooks the Assembly Chamber. Originally an 1855 portrait of John Sutter, painted by California’s first portrait painter, William Smith Jewett, hung in the Chambers. It was replaced in 1909 by this portrait of President Lincoln, which remains there to this day.
Tradition holds that each governor may select an artist to paint their portrait so the portrait reflects the individual governor’s personality. However, there are still recommended criteria the artist should be willing to abide by. The overall effect or appearance of the portrait should be in harmony with the Capitol’s dignified surroundings, and the physical size of the portrait, as well as the style of the frame, should be in keeping with its predecessors. The portrait is to be done with competence and sufficient artistic merit.
The tradition of commissioning California’s gubernatorial portraits began in 1879, when the State Legislature selected artist William Cogswell to paint portraits of several former governors. In 1931, the practice was codified; a section was added to the Government Code authorizing funds from the state budget be used to produce portraits for all governors. The code specifies that portraits must be commissioned after governors retire from office, are oil-based, framed, and hung in appropriate spaces within the Capitol building.
These guidelines were not enough to prevent some gubernatorial portraits from causing a stir. In 1947, Governor C. C. Young broke with the custom of portraying a serious pose by having the artist, Hans Meyer Kasell, paint him outdoors and smiling. In 1984, artist Don Bachardy departed from the established realistic style and painted Governor Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr., in a more abstract style.
Earlier governors are represented in portraits throughout the Capitol’s hallways and museum rooms. Try to locate all of the portraits in the Capitol virtual tours!