This portrait of Edmund Randolph is a copy made by Flavius Josephus Fisher, a nineteenth-century Virginia artist, after an original painted by an unidentified artist. The portrait now hangs in the Virginia State Capitol. Randolph was born in 1753 in Williamsburg to a prominent family of Virginia planters. Accordingly, he received a fine education. He attended the College of William and Mary grammar and philosophy schools in 1770–1771. He then studied law, possibly under his father, Attorney General John Randolph. When the American Revolution began, Randolph made the difficult decision to break with his father's Loyalist sentiment and follow the patriot cause. Randolph remained in the colonies, seeking a position as General Washington's aide-de-camp even as his parents and sisters left for England. Throughout the Revolutionary War and early national years, Randolph held many important political positions. He was a delegate to the Fifth Virginia Revolutionary Convention, the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and the Virginia ratifying convention of 1788. He was the first attorney general of the independent Commonwealth of Virginia (1776–1786), governor (1786–1788), the first attorney general of the United States (1790–1794), and U.S. secretary of state (1794–1795). Randolph died in 1813.
The portrait shows Randolph dressed in plain contemporary clothing of a dark coat and artfully tied cravat. As a wealthy man, Randolph had the financial means to pay for an oil portrait and the leisure to pose for the artist.
Born in Wytheville in 1833, Flavius Josephus Fisher showed artistic talent as a child. He studied at a Philadelphia studio and later in Berlin before establishing himself as a portrait and landscape artist in Richmond and Lynchburg. Fisher was credited with an exceptional visual memory that enabled him to paint accurate portraits with as few as two sittings by the subject. He died in Washington, D.C., in 1905.
1. What was Edmund Randolph's profession?
2. Who painted this picture?
1. In the days before photography, why was it important for portraits to be made? What would having a portrait made say about the person in the painting?
2. Why would the Commonwealth of Virginia want a portrait of Edmund Randolph even if it was made more than a century after his death?
Lovell, Margaretta M. Art in a Season of Revolution: Painters, Artisans, and Patrons in Early America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.
Reardon, John J. Edmund Randolph: A Biography. New York: Macmillan, 1975.