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Henry St. George Tucker

King, Charles Bird
Place Made:
Washington District of Columbia United States of America
Date Made:
oil on canvas
HOA: 28; WOA: 24 1/8
Accession Number:
SITTER: Henry St. George Tucker (1780-1848) was born December 29, 1780 to Frances (Bland) Randolph Tucker and the noted judge, St. George Tucker (1752-1827) of Williamsburg. His half-brother was the famous Virginia Congressman, John Randolph (1733-1833) of Roanoke. The two were good friends and correspondents. Henry St. George Tucker graduated from the College of William and on September 23, 1806 married Ann Evalina Hunter of present-day Jefferson County, West Virginia. In 1806, the couple moved to Winchester, Virginia. From 1807 to 1808, Henry served the region as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He participated in the War of 1812, and afterwards resumed his political and legal career.

This portrait was almost certainly painted in the District of Columbia during Tucker’s service in the United States House of Representatives, from 1815 to 1819. He was later a Virginia State Senator from 1819 to 1823, and in 1824 became a Judge of the Supreme Court of Chancellery in Winchester. He was also a law professor at the University of Virginia, and a later portrait of Tucker by another artist hangs at the University. Tucker died in Winchester on August 28, 1848.

ARTIST: Charles Bird King (1785-1862) was born in Newport, Rhode Island to Deborah (Bird) King (1758-1819) and Captain Zebulon King (1750-1789). As a young child his family moved west to Ohio. Following his father’s death by scalping, the family returned east to Newport. King showed an early aptitude for painting and received encouragement from some of the best artists of his day. Educated in Newport, he was a classmate of Washington Allston (1779-1843), who along with Samuel King (1749-1819) and miniaturist Edward Malbone (1777-1807), encouraged and instructed King.

By 1800 he was apprenticed to the New York City artist Edward Savage. King worked in Savage’s studio until he left for England in 1806. He was to spend seven years in London, where he roomed with Samuel L. Waldo (1783-1861) who had accompanied him to England. In London he studied with Benjamin West (1738-1820) at the Royal Academy. Upon Waldo’s return to America, King moved to a new residence with Thomas Sully (1783-1872) with whom he had a lifelong friendship. In 1811 Washington Allston, Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872), and Charles Robert Leslie (1794-1859) joined King in London where they studied together until King returned to the United States in 1812.

After his return to America, King worked unsuccessfully for four years in Philadelphia. He moved to Richmond, Baltimore, and finally Washington, D.C., in 1816, and remained there until he died in 1862. King’s surviving trompe l’oeil still life paintings show his great talent as an artist, though his bread-and-butter was portraiture. Washington, D.C. with its steady stream of elected officials and government visitors, guaranteed a steady source of patrons.

King is best known for his portraits of Native American visitors to Washington commissioned by the Department of War and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. King began painting visiting native delegations 1821 and continued for two decades until a change in administration brought the ongoing commission to a close.

FRAME: The portrait remains in its original frame.

RELATED OBJECTS: MESDA has two works by King: A portrait of Congressman Henry St. George Tucker (MESDA acc. 966.1) and a portrait of Mistipee, Yoholo Mico’s Son (MESDA acc. 3542).

DESCRIPTION: Portrait of man, bust length, seated in a red upholstered chair, body half-left, eyes and head forward, brown hair, blue-gray eyes, ruddy complexion, wearing a black coat, yellow vest and white stock and tie, brass buttons. The background is a greenish-gray.

Credit Line:
Mr. and Mrs. R. Phillip Hanes, Jr. Purchase Fund