Supreme Court of the United States

Forgotten Legacy:
Judicial Portraits by Cornelia Adèle Fassett


Judicial Portraits

European Influences

Fassett’s exposure to art movements of the time is reflected in her realistic rendering of her subjects. In 1876, Fassett completed markedly similar three-quarter length portraits of Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite and Justice Samuel F. Miller. The former was displayed at the Centennial Exposition until it found a permanent home at the Supreme Court of Ohio. The latter remained in the hands of Justice Miller’s family until it was donated to the Court in 1946.

Following the death of Chief Justice Waite in 1888, Fassett received a commission to produce a bust length portrait for display in the Supreme Court’s Robing Room in the U.S. Capitol Building. Although this work was completed 13 years after her first judicial portraits, it too reflects the influence of the French portrait and still-life painter with whom she studied, Henri Fantin-Latour.


Portrait of Justice Samuel F. Miller by Cornelia Adèle Fassett, 1876. Portrait of Justice Samuel F. Miller by Cornelia Adèle Fassett, 1876.
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Portrait of Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite by Cornelia Adèle Fassett, 1889.
Portrait of Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite by Cornelia Adèle Fassett, 1889.
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Robing Room, U.S. Capitol Building, c. 1900.<br />Architect of the Capitol
Robing Room, U.S. Capitol Building, c. 1900.
Architect of the Capitol
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Letter written March 20, 1889 by Supreme Court Marshal J.M. Wright to Fassett authorizing the purchase of her portrait of Chief Justice Waite.
Letter written March 20, 1889 by Supreme Court Marshal J.M. Wright to Fassett authorizing the purchase of her portrait of Chief Justice Waite.


Fassett's Self-Portrait

Elements of Realism

Henri Fantin-Latour’s emphasis on capturing a sitter’s face and hands is reflected in Fassett’s works. The texturing of flesh and facial hair received much attention in Fassett’s depictions of Chief Justice Waite and Justice Miller, who are shown with meticulously modeled faces, penetrating gazes, and strongly drawn mouths. Equally expressive are Miller’s hands, which show age and muscle strain in his pink knuckles and blue veins. Fassett was conscious of the status of her sitters and she imparted upon them a dignified pride, while still realistically capturing their unique characteristics.


Shadowing Techniques

Fantin-Latour’s influence is also seen in Fassett’s shadowing techniques. Both Waite and Miller are strongly lit against a background to produce a dramatic image. The contrast of light and dark adds weight to the sitters’ posture and creates a sense of three-dimensionality.


Justice Noah H. Swayne's Docket Book, open to the entry for Kaiser v. Stickney on the left, October Term 1880. Self-portrait of Henri Fantin-Latour
© Musée de Grenoble

History Painting

Realism was an artistic movement that rapidly gained popularity in mid-19th century France. Abandoning the drama and emotion of previous movements such as Romanticism, realist painters turned to scenes from contemporary life for inspiration. Rather than idealize the world around them, artists depicted their subjects as lifelike and accurately as possible.






 

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