Battle of Lake Erie
William Henry Powell, an Ohio artist who had studied with Henry Inman in New York City, received a coveted commission in 1847: the last of the historical paintings for the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. His subject, Discovery of the Mississippi by De Soto A.D. 1541, was completed in 1853. As Henry Tuckerman wrote in his 1867 Book of the Artists, it was “a commission bestowed upon him rather in deference to his Western origin than because of priority of claim in point of rank or age.” [1] That is, the new political clout of the Northwest Territory had made itself felt. This national success led his home state to commission Powell in 1857 to paint Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie for the rotunda of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. The work was completed in his New York City studio. The artist let it be known that he had used as models men from the Brooklyn Navy Yard and had sought authenticity in all the nautical details of the picture, an effort for which he was praised. The picture was installed in Columbus in 1865, whereupon the Joint Committee on the Library commissioned Powell, on March 2, 1865, for a painting “illustrative of some naval victory,” to be placed at the head of the east stairway in the Senate wing of the Capitol. [2] It seems certain that he was expected to repeat his Ohio Statehouse subject on a larger scale. He did so, painting it in a temporary studio inside the U.S. Capitol and completing it in 1873. For this version, it appears that Powell used as models workers then employed at the Capitol. Powell chose as his subject the moment when Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry made his way from his severely damaged flagship, the Lawrence, in a rowboat through enemy fire to the Niagara. Powell enlarged the crew of the boat, showing six oarsmen, a helmsman, Perry, and Perry’s 13-year-old brother, Alexander, who served as Perry’s midshipman. Sources do not agree on whether Alexander in fact accompanied his brother in the rowboat, but it must have seemed an

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Photo by: William Henry Powell (1823-1879) |  VIRIN: 210823-Z-DO489-0001.JPG