Presented is a signed lithographic poster entitled “The Signing” by Howard Chandler Christy. “The Signing” is an allegorical rendering of the signing of the Constitution of the United States and our nation’s history and progress in the 150 years since the signing. Howard Chandler Christy signed and inscribed the poster in the bottom right corner.
In 1936, Representative Sol Bloom, the director general of the United States Constitution Sesquicentennial Commission, proposed that a painting be commissioned as part of the 150th anniversary of the Constitution. Howard Chandler Christy created three iterations of paintings for the Sesquicentennial Commission. Christy painted the first painting, “We the People,” in 1936. A year later, Christy painted a second painting titled “The Signing.” After two more years of congressional debate, Christy was finally commissioned in 1939 to create his final painting, a 20-by-30-foot framed oil-on-canvas scene of the signing, currently on display in the east grand stairway of the House wing of the U.S. Capitol.
The 1937 painting was issued as a commemorative lithographic poster by the United States Constitutional Sesquicentennial Commission, as presented here. The poster and the original 7’ x 5’ oil canvas were first exhibited in December 1937 at the Grand Central Fifth Avenue Galleries. At the exhibit opening Christy explained, “I wanted the painting to be accurate in every detail because I feel deeply the meaning the Constitution holds for every American.” A 1937 order form listing items that could be purchased for the upcoming Sesquicentennial indicates that this particular “Official Poster” came in three different sizes- Small 12” x 14-1/2”, Medium 24” x 27”, and Large 42” x 38” and originally sold via mail order for 5¢, 10¢ & 25¢ cents respectively.
“The Signing” is an artistic representation of the signing of the Constitution of the United States with strong allegorical references to core American values and renderings of our 150 year history since its inception. The bottom two thirds of the image depict the signing of the Constitution at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787. George Washington is the most prominent figure; he stands on the platform next to Richard Spaight of North Carolina, who is signing the document. Benjamin Franklin is seated at center, with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison nearby. The other delegates populate the room, depicted in stirring conversation with each other.
The top of the composition is filled with allegorical renderings. At center is a shining Lady Liberty standing with open arms and a golden scroll of “We the People” unfurling below her. At right, is a female personification of Blind Justice, with a sword symbolizing the power in impartiality. At left, a youth choir represents religious freedom. Renderings of American soldiers from different eras, including minute men and WWI soldiers, reflect the strength of our national defense and our willingness to fight for freedom. Christy also included scenes of factory workers, billowing smokestacks, a railway locomotive, ships, and fighter planes to speak to the might of American industrial ingenuity and enterprise.
To achieve the greatest possible accuracy, Christy referenced period portraits by the best artists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, such as Charles Willson Peale and Gilbert Stuart. He researched federal period clothing, using a pair of George Washington’s breeches borrowed from the Smithsonian Institution to paint from. He depicted the furniture and artifacts used by the delegates with similar accuracy. The books beside Franklin’s chair were part of Thomas Jefferson’s library. Christy borrowed them from the Rare Book Room of the Library of Congress and included them in the scene to acknowledge Jefferson’s importance to the Constitution. The flags he depicted are the Stars and Stripes, one from a Maryland dragoon regiment, and regimental colors from Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
A feat of great artistic merit, lithograph printings of “The Signing” were purchased hungrily by the American people at the time of publication. Unfortunately, only a few impressions have survived to today, making the lithographs of “The Signing” in any size quite rare. The original oil on canvas of “The Signing” is part of the permanent collection of the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Original color and gold lithograph, as issued. Good condition, with only minor skinning and abrasions in margins. Toning to paper. Mounted on thin cardboard. Signed and inscribed: "The Honorable [...] White [..] NIC/ With heartiest good wishes/ Howard Chandler Christy" in lower right hand corner in black ink. Signature has faded slightly.
Print has been archivally framed with acid-free mats, gold spandrel, UV Conservation Clear glass, and a custom-built wooden frame. Framed dimensions: 32"H x 29"W x 2”D.
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