Education from LVA

John Marshall

  • John Marshall, Oil Painting
Henry Inman painted this portrait of Chief Justice John Marshall from life.
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John Marshall, Oil Painting

Henry Inman painted his original portrait of Chief Justice John Marshall in September 1831, when the jurist sat for Inman in Philadelphia. This painting is a copy of Inman's original that he made in 1832 for an engraver. John Marshall bought the painting for his daughter who passed it to her daughters. Marshall's granddaughters lent the portrait to the Virginia State Library in 1874 and the surviving granddaughter bequeathed it to the Library in 1920.

John Marshall was born on September 24, 1755 in the area that would later become part of Fauquier County. He was an officer in the Continental army and studied law under George Wythe before opening his practice in Richmond. He supported ratification of the Constitution in the Convention of 1788. During the 1790s Marshall emerged as one of the state's finest attorneys and a strong supporter of the Federalist Party. He won election to the House of Representatives, and in 1800 President John Adams appointed him secretary of state. As chief justice of the United States from February 4, 1801, until his death on July 6, 1835, Marshall heard cases and offered groundbreaking opinions that continue to guide the Supreme Court and the United States government today. The Marshall court established the principle of judicial review, in which the court ruled that the Supreme Court had the power to declare invalid any act of Congress that was in conflict with the U.S. Constitution. The Marshall court also ruled that state judiciaries could set aside state legislative acts if they conflicted with the federal Constitution and that the U.S. Supreme Court could reverse a decision of a state court. By his opinions, Marshall increased the power of the Supreme Court as a branch of the federal government, emphasized the role of the judiciary in the states, and reinforced the national supremacy of the federal government.

Henry Inman was born in Utica New York on October 20, 1801, and later moved with his family to New York City. Inman apprenticed under painter John Wesley Jarvis, and in 1822 he opened his own studio in New York. He built a strong reputation as a portraitist before moving to Philadelphia in 1831. He lived in New Jersey before returning to New York in 1834 and visited England in the mid-1840s before his death on January 17, 1846, in New York. Over the course of his career, Inman was a sought-after portraitist and he also produced fine miniatures, landscapes, and genre pieces.

For Educators


1. What is John Marshall holding? What is the significance of this item?
2. Describe the background, furniture, etc. What can you learn from these aspects of the painting?
3. How is John Marshall dressed? What can learn about him from his portrait?

Further Discussion

1. The book that John Marshall holds in this portrait is a copy of his biography of the first president, The Life of George Washington. Do you suppose that Inman or Marshall choose that book for the painting? Research Marshall's acquaintanceship with Washington. Was Marshall a good choice for the job of telling the story of Washington's life?


The book that rests between John Marshall's right hand and his leg is a volume from his biography of the first president, The Life of George Washington (1804–1807).


Exhibition, John Marshall

This Day in Virginia: January 27

Suggested Reading

Batson, Barbara C., and Tracy L. Kramerer. A Capital Collection: Virginia's Artistic Inheritance. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2005.

Hobson, Charles F. The Great Chief Justice: John Marshall and the Rule of Law. University Press of Kansas, 1996.

Oliver, Andrew. The Portraits of John Marshall. Charlottesville: Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture by the University Press of Virginia, 1977.