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Libraries & Spaces
John Winkler's Drawings for The Constitutional Convention of 1787
Commemorating the 215 years since Congress first met under the new U.S. Constitution, which also coincides with the two-hundred fifteenth anniversary of the founding of Georgetown College, the Fairchild Gallery has presented John W. Winkler's Drawings for The Constitutional Convention Of 1787 beginning in December 2004, through March 2005.
The exhibition includes twenty-six highly accomplished preparatory drawings, of 130 completed, for Winkler’s popular 1932 etching Washington Presiding Over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, May, 1787. The etching was commissioned by the George Washington Memorial Association for a portfolio of twenty etchings by several prominent artists, in honor of the bicentennial of Washington’s birth in 1932.
John W. Winkler (1894-1979) was born in Vienna, and studied at the San Francisco Institute of Art. He was well-known for his etchings, drawings, and gold jewelry. Primarily a landscape artist, Washington Presiding Over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, May, 1787 presented a compositional challenge for Winkler, which he handled successfully. The drawings in the exhibit reveal his careful studies of the human form, placement of figures, ornamental details, and individual facial characteristics of the “Founding Fathers,” assembled into a complicated scene that emphasizes Washington’s position of respected leadership.
The Winkler drawings were a gift to the Library in 2000 from the artist’s niece and nephew, Carol Johnson and John Aronovici. On view with the drawings are an original proof of Washington Presiding Over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, May, 1787, a copper etching plate based on his studies of Benjamin Franklin, and several letters, including one from President Herbert Hoover to the president of the George Washington Memorial Association. Along with George Washington, famous historical figures featured in the exhibit include James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Elbridge Gerry, Rufus King, Gouverneur Morris, Charles Pinckney, and Charles Thomson. On the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, Winkler’s drawings were exhibited at the Bank of America World Headquarters in San Francisco.
Leader of the Pennsylvania delegation to the Constitutional Convention, Gouverneur Morris (1752-1815) shaped much of the final wording of the document; James Madison declared, “the finish given to the style and arrangement of the Constitution fairly belongs to the pen of Mr. Morris."*
Following his service as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in the War for Independence, George Washington (1732–1799) had retired to his home at Mount Vernon. In 1787, however, he led the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention, and was unanimously elected the presiding officer.
Charles Pinckney (1857-1824) represented South Carolina at the Constitutional Convention, and contributed to the final draft of the document.
Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814), a businessman and politician in Massachusetts, refused to sign the Constitution at the Convention, but later urged its ratification in his home state.
General Washington's aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) represented New York at the Constitutional Convention, and argued, unsuccessfully, for greater powers for the federal government.
Author, scientist, statesman, and diplomat Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) of Pennsylvania was the oldest delegate at the Constitutional Convention. Apocryphally to Franklin is attributed the quote when, after having been asked by a curious citizen of Philadelphia what type of government had been established at the Convention, he replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” “He is the only Founding Father who is a signatory of all three of the major documents of the founding of the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris, and the United States Constitution”*
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Massachusetts lawyer Rufus King (1755-1827) served on the Constitutional Convention's Committee on Postponed Matters and the Committee of Style.
Although not a delegate to the proceedings, Pennsylvania merchant Charles Thomson (1729-1824) served as secretary first to the Continental Congress and subsequently to the Constitutional Convention.
Virginia lawyer and farmer James Madison (1751-1836) was one of the leading instigators for the formation of a Constitutional Convention, and sometimes is known as the “Father of the Constitution.”* * www.wikipedia.com
Arms (1887-1953) was at the time one of the most accomplished etchers in the United States; the Georgetown University Library has a nearly complete collection of his works. He recommended to the George Washington Memorial Commission that Winkler be chosen to depict The Constitutional Convention of 1787 for the commemorative series of etchings of the life of George Washington.
“Mr. Ogden” is Harry A. Ogden (1856-1936), a historical artist who was the Associate Editor for the commemorative series of etchings of the life of George Washington.
With reproduction of President Washington's Levée, New-York, 1789, by Harry A. Ogden; inscribed: “Dear Mr. Winkler: / I am so proud & happy that you are doing a plate for the Portfolio & wanted you have this greeting from me. Best wishes always / AB”
San Francisco: Bank of America World Headquarters, Concourse Gallery; July 1-30, 1976
This photograph and biography of John W. Winkler was included in the brochure the George Washington Bicentennial 1732-1932.
Souvenir color photograph album with annotated descriptions (Washington: B. S. Reynolds Co., 1920), from the collection of John W. Winkler.
Cover illustration of John W. Winkler by E. R. Hambly, 1918.
Gift of Carol Johnson and John Aronovici, 2000