The Cox Mural in the Capitol

In the late 1960s, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the United States Capitol Historical Society jointly sponsored  a project to foster a greater awareness and appreciation of our nation’s past by recording the American story on the walls of  the United States Capitol. Allyn Cox, who had completed the Rotunda friezes begun by Constantino Brumidi in the 19th Century, was commissioned for the project.

Planning for the House wing murals began during the winter of 1969-70. After deciding to place them on the vaulted ceilings, Cox completed scale drawings of the proposed murals, making sure they were historically accurate and in harmony with the building’s architecture.  He began the actual work on the ceilings in February 1973, with the “Hall of Capitols” series.   Aided by Clifford Young, who helped work up the cartoons (preparatory  drawings), he completed the series in July 1974. 
This first phase of the project, funded by the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, tells the story of the Capitol and includes paintings of the 16 buildings in which Congress and its predecessors have met since 1754.  Other panels contain scenes set in or around the halls of Congress and portraits of persons associated with the Capitol.

“New Dome Symbolizes Union”

One of the murals in the Hall of Capitols depicts Capitol Architect Thomas U. Walters showing his plans for the building’s new dome to President Abraham Lincoln. Cox used an 1863 photo of the dome under construction (attributed to famed Civil War photographer Matthew Brady) as the basis for the scene.


Construction on the dome, authorized by Congress in 1855, was interrupted by the Civil War, but began again in 1862 under Lincoln’s order that construction be continued as “a sign we intend the Union shall go on”.  The last section of the “Freedom” statue atop the dome was put in place on December 2, 1863, at which time the U.S. flag was unfurled and a 35-gun salute (one for each state, north and south) was fired.


The Artist

When I was very young, my parents brought me here and showed me an empty space in the frieze under the Rotunda dome.  After that I used to dream and dream of painting it one day.     ~~ Allyn Cox, quoted in The Washington Post, 28 Sept 1982

Allyn Cox (1896-1982), a native of New York City, was the son of artists Kenyon and Louise Howland King Cox.  He began his art training under his father and later studied at the National Academy of Art, the Art Students League and at the American Academy in Rome.   In 1953, he realized his childhood dream when he was commissioned to complete the Brumidi friezes.
This was just the beginning of his work in the Capitol; he returned in 1969 to clean and restore one of the Brumidi murals and later painted the Henry Clay portrait in the Senate Reception Room and the 1969 moon landing in the Senate wing’s Brumidi Corridor.  Cox began working on the House wing murals in 1969, completing The Hall of Capitols in 1974 and the second phase, the Great Experiment Hall, in 1982.  He retired in March 1982 at the age of 86 and died the following September.


Some of Cox's major projects include murals at the following institutions:

Dumbarton Oaks, Georgetown, Washington, DC
           General U.S. Grant National Memorial (“Grant’s Tomb”), New York City
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library,  University of California at Los Angeles, CA
Royal Arch Room & Memorial Hall
George Washington Masonic Memorial, Washington, DC

         

For more information about the US Capitol and its art, including the Allyn Cox murals:

US Capitol Historical Society's History and Exhibits site


Sources

Photo Credits

"Lincoln and the Dome" Main Page
The Cartoon & the Conservation Process
 

For information concerning this exhibit contact: speccoll@truman.edu

Exhibits Gallery  |  Special Collections  |  Pickler Memorial Library  


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Last Modified 24 September 2009
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