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Marshall exhibit is worth seeing

Many historians and legal scholars believe John Marshall to be the greatest Chief Justice ever to serve on the U.

Monday, February 12, 2001

Many historians and legal scholars believe John Marshall to be the greatest Chief Justice ever to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

During his 35 years as Chief Justice, Marshall and the associate justices who served with him defined the scope of the American constitutional system. Without question, Marshall is the person responsible for establishing the principle that the Supreme Court has the right to declare a law unconstitutional. In doing so, he took what the framers of the Constitution saw as the weakest branch of the federal government and elevated it to parity with the executive and legislative branches.

As one of our greatest judicial leaders and one of the most powerful men of his time, Marshall was honored many times over by portrait painters who captured his likeness and demeanor in oil on canvas. Like other great men of his era, Marshall was painted by some of the greatest portrait artists of his time.

In honor of the 200th anniversary of the inauguration of John Marshall as Chief Justice of the United States, his namesake, Marshall University, and the Huntington Museum of Art are collaborating to sponsor a first-class exhibition of many of his most famous portraits.

The Face of Justice: Portraits of John Marshall, which opened on Feb. 3 and continues through April 15 at the Museum of Art, features paintings by Henry Inman and Chester Harding, two of the leading portrait painters of the early 19th century.

The show is beautifully staged next to a replica of the Supreme Court chamber as it was when Marshall sat on the bench.

The portraits on the gallery walls show John Marshall at various stages in his life – from the successful lawyer in his early years through the well-known Inman 1831 portrait of the Chief Justice at age 76. He would die four years later at age 80.

As you view the portraits in the exhibition, you can feel the intense person that John Marshall was. You can see a man with a sincere gaze, the judge with "steady but unintimidating" eyes, the elder statesman who showed little concern for his clothing or the unruliness of his hair.

As the program for the exhibition says, "The Face of Justice: Portraits of John Marshall offers scholars and the public alike the opportunity to reflect on John Marshall’s powerful image and its significance in the history of our nation."

We who live in the Tri-State region are fortunate to have a university and an art museum that have the willingness to collaborate and bring us a world-class exhibition. It’s well worth the drive to Huntington. And after you view the Marshall portrait exhibition, wander into the other galleries and the conservatory. You’ll find that the museum is a great place to spend an afternoon.


Bob Jodon is publisher & editor of The Ironton Tribune. To comment, please write to him in care of the newspaper or send an e-mail to bob.jodon@irontontribune.com.