This painting depicting the adoption of the Virginia Declaration of Rights by the fifth Virginia Revolutionary Convention was made by Jack Clifton in 1974. In 1968, Clifton was commissioned by the Jamestown Foundation to paint a depiction of the first legislative assembly at Jamestown. The Adoption of the Virginia Declaration of Rights was commissioned later to complement the earlier work. Both paintings now hang in the Virginia State Capitol.
In this painting, Patrick Henry stands as he addresses the convention. Seated at the table are the clerk of the convention, John Tazewell, and Archibald Cary, the chair of the committee appointed to draft the Declaration of Rights. Seated at the Speaker's chair, the thronelike central chair, is the president of the convention, Edmund Pendleton, and to his right is George Mason. On the far right of the painting, Thomas Jefferson is recognizable by his red hair. In addition to the Speaker's chair, the elaborate silver mace on the table identifies the room as the House of Burgesses chamber in the Capitol in Williamsburg.
Mason drafted the Declaration, accepting some additions from Thomas Ludwell Lee. Later, the drafting committee further edited the draft. Once completed, the draft was debated between late May and early June 1776 and other significant changes were made. The final version of the Virginia Declaration of Rights was adopted on June 12, 1776, and its subsequent influence is undeniable.
The painter of this work, Jack Whitney Clifton, was born in Norfolk and raised in Newport News. He showed artistic talent as a young man, studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts after graduating from high school. Working in graphite, crayon, and paint, he created realistic portraits and landscapes. He opened a studio and art school in Hampton after World War II and authored several art books. He died on August 26, 1990, in Hampton at the age of seventy-eight.
1. What does the way the people are dressed in the picture say about them?
2. Why aren't there any women or African American people or people of other minorities in the painting?
3. Look at the room, what can you tell about the time period and place? How is it different from the room you are in?
4. Do you think this painting shows what the fifth Virginia convention really looked like in 1775? Why or why not?
1. Artists often use artist symbolism to portray historic events. What symbols did Jack Clifton use in his depiction of the adoption of the Virginia Declaration of Rights? Do the symbolic items add more meaning to the painting for the viewer?
2. Research the fifth Revolutionary convention and particularly the adoption of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (a good documentary edition is Revolutionary Virginia, Road to Independence, vol. 7) and research the time period and place (Williamsburg, Virginia) (a good place to start is Colonial Williamsburg's Web site: http://www.history.org/). Based on your research, do you think that Jack Clifton's painting is a good representation of the convention? Are the costumes and portraits good likenesses? How about the setting and furniture?
Clifton, Jack, and Walt Reed. The Eye of the Artist. Westport Conn.: North Light Publishers, 1973.
Tarter, Brent. “The Virginia Declaration of Rights.” In To Secure the Blessings of Liberty: Rights in American History, The George Mason Lectures. Edited by Josephine F. Pacheco, 37–54. Fairfax, Va.: George Mason University Press, 1993.