spacer William Wirt William Wirt (1772-1834)

A lawyer of uncommon ability, William Wirt participated in many of the most important Supreme Court cases of his day. As United States attorney general from 1817 to 1829, he transformed this cabinet position into one of considerable influence. Wirt had recently completed a term in the Virginia House of Delegates when he sat for this portrait by self-taught Massachusetts artist Cephas Thompson. At the time Thompson was at the height of his career, traveling as an itinerant artist in the South. Thompson portrayed Wirt in what appears to be a draped Roman toga, possibly a reference to Wirt's skilled oratory as a member of the prosecution during Aaron Burr's trial for treason in Richmond in 1807.

Cephas Thompson (1775-1856)
Oil on canvas, circa 1809-1810
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Enlarged image

NPG Home Page | NPG Current Exhibitions
© 2002 Smithsonian Institution