Supreme Court of the United States

Forgotten Legacy:
Judicial Portraits by Cornelia Adèle Fassett


Drawing The Waite Court

Messages of unity, strength, and prosperity were prevalent throughout the Centennial Exposition, particularly among the art exhibitions, where patriotic themes celebrating the United States dominated. The Exposition therefore served as an ideal backdrop for Fassett to display her latest accomplishment: Supreme Court portraiture. She created a large conté crayon drawing of the Waite Court with the Exposition in mind, and its composition was inspired by several photographs taken by her husband. Close comparison of the photographs with the final work shows that she selected poses as she saw fit, and when none suited her taste, she created a new one. Her artistic license is also seen in the work’s reimagined background, which is in stark contrast to the actual studio’s austere setting.

1 / 2
Conté crayon of the Waite Court by Cornelia Adèle Fassett, after photographs by Samuel Montague Fassett, 1876.
Conté crayon of the Waite Court by Cornelia Adèle Fassett, after photographs by Samuel Montague Fassett, 1876.
Left to right: Justices Joseph P. Bradley, Stephen J. Field, Samuel F. Miller, Nathan Clifford, Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite, and Justices Noah Swayne, David Davis, William Strong, and Ward Hunt.
2 / 2
Photograph of the Waite Court by Samuel Montague Fassett, 1876.
Photograph of the Waite Court by Samuel Montague Fassett, 1876.
Left to right: Justices Joseph P. Bradley, Stephen J. Field, Samuel F. Miller, Nathan Clifford, Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite, and Justices Noah H. Swayne, David Davis, William Strong, Ward Hunt.

 


History Painting

Developed by French inventor Nicolas-Jacques Conté at the end of the 18th century, the conté crayon became a popular medium for portraits and figure drawing. A blend of clay and graphite, conté crayons are more durable than charcoal or pastels. Similarly, conté crayons are easier to control and can be used for drawing precise lines or for varying degrees of shading.

 


Cross comparison of Cornelia’s conté crayon drawing with Samuel’s photograph.

drawing 1
Photograph 1
drawing 2
Photograph 2


Small copy prints of drawing with Justices' signatures.

Small copy prints of the drawing were sold as souvenirs and mounted on colored boards, featuring printed facsimiles of all the Justices’ signatures. Following the Exposition, the drawing was presented to the Supreme Court and displayed in the Court’s Consultation Room.

To learn more about the history of the Supreme Court’s group photograph, see the online exhibit All Together for the Camera.

 

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES 1 First Street, NE Washington, DC 20543