This section is from the book "The National Capitol. Its Architecture Art And History", by George C. Hazelton, Jr. Also available from Amazon: The National Capitol Its Architecture Art and History.
As the accumulation of dust arising from sweeping so large a room, and, what is much worse, the filth of flies, (the most destructive enemies of painting,) if not carefully guarded against, renders necessary the frequent washing and cleaning of the surface of pictures, every repetition of which is injurious, I have directed curtains to be placed, which can be drawn in front of the whole, whenever the room is to be swept, as well as in the recess of the Legislature during the Summer, when flies are most pernicious.
As nothing is more obvious than the impossibility of keeping a room warm and dry by means of fire, so long as doors are left open for the admission of the external air, I have further directed self-closing baise doors to be prepared and placed, so that they will unavoidably close behind every one who shall either enter or leave the room.
When the doors are kept closed, and fires lighted in the furnaces below, to supply warm air, I find the temperature of this vast apartment is easily maintained at about 68 of Fahrenheit ; and the simple precaution of closed doors being observed, in addition to the others which I have employed, I entertain no doubt that these paintings are now perfectly and permanently secured against the delecterious effects of dampness.
I regret that I was not authorized to provide against the dangers of damage by violence, whether intended or accidental. Curiosity naturally leads men to touch, as well as to look at, objects of this kind ; and, placed low as they are, not only the gilded frames and curtains, but the surface of the paintings are within the reach of spectators : repeated handling, even by the best intentioned and most careful, will, in the course of a few years, produce essential damage. But one of the paintings testifies to the possibility of their being approached, for the very purpose of doing injury ; the right foot of General Morgan, in the picture of Saratoga, was cut off with a sharp instrument, apparently a penknife. I have repaired the wound, but the scar remains visible. If I had possessed the authority, I should have placed in front, and at the distance of not less than ten feet from the wall, an iron railing, of such strength and elevation as should form a complete guard against external injury by ill-disposed persons ; unless they employed missiles of some force.
Read, and laid upon the Table, December II, 1826.
To the Hon. J. W. Taylor,
Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States of America.
Sir.' The sons of the late Benjamin West request that you will do them the favor to represent to Congress the desire they have of offering the body of their father's works, which has devolved to them, to the Government of the United States for purchase, feeling deeply impressed with the conviction that the works of their father should find their final place of destiny in his native country. Their father was the first American born subject who distinguished himself by a spontaneous pursuit of the fine arts, his extraordinary love of which induced him to leave his native country in the twenty-first year of his age, to study the works of the renowned masters of that art, which were to be seen in Italy.
After the completion of his studies in Italy, which he prosecuted, during four years, with such avidity that it occasioned a fever which nearly deprived him of life, he went to England, where his talent for the arts very soon attracted the attention of some leading . amateur characters ; and his having painted a picture of an interesting subject, that displayed his abilities, for the Archbishop of York, he shortly after became honored by the notice and patronage of the king, (George the Third,) who beneficently sustained him in his practice and study of the fine arts for nearly forty years, and engaged him in great plans, from the subjects of English history and the sacred writings, for the embellishment of Windsor Castle. Under the sanction of his majesty, he became one of the original founders of the Royal Academy in London. In testimony, also, of his talent, and the esteem in which he was held by his contemporaries in the arts, they elected him twenty-seven times President of the Academy of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, (of which he was one of the original founders,) and as a further sanction of the abilities he possessed as an artist, and of the spreading abroad of his fame, he likewise received honorable distinctions from most of the academies for the encouragement and promotion of the fine arts in the polished countries of Europe. Whenever his works first made their appearance before the public, they excited a very strong sensation throughout the metropolis ; and his three latter productions, Christ Healing the Sick in the Temple, (which has since been presented by Mr. West to the Hospital of Philadelphia,) Christ Rejected by the Jews, and his daring and extraordinary picture of Death on the Pale Horse, produced no common sensation on the minds of the people of England. His demise, which took place after he had passed his eighty-first year, was considered and felt as a public loss, for the circumstance of his latter productions appearing, at his venerable age, amongst the most vigorous and sublime of his works, occasioned a very remarkable augmentation to his fame at the close of his life. His remains were honored by a public funeral, and were interred in the great Cathedral of St. Paul's, within the city of London, where all the members of the Royal Academy, many of the nobility, his relatives and select friends, attended, in token of their high estimation of his genius, and in respect for his excellent moral character and amiable disposition : but he had enemies, who occasioned him much anxiety and difficulty in his latter years.
The career he ran in the art, whilst residing in London, occupied a space of more than half a century. He left his native country in the year 1760, and became deceased, in the city of London, on the ioth of March, 1820. The number of the works that he has left behind him is indeed truly astonishing: his whole life was one scene of industry, persever-ence, and endeavor to perfect himself in the art, and to dispense to others, (especially to young and rising artists,) the knowledge that he had thus diligently acquired. It is, therefore, very generally considered, that, so long as science, or art, or virtue, shall exist, the name of Benjamin West will stand pre-eminent in honorable fame.