Visitors are treated to stunning visuals following the Capitol’s $310-million renovation, the largest preservation effort since the building opened in 1905.
Working with cotton swabs and tiny instruments, a team of professional conservators cleaned and repaired 57 paintings, murals and one sculpture, the Quadriga.
New changes better reflect the “People’s House”
“As the ‘People’s House’ our beloved Capitol is an active public building and compelling icon,” said Stephen Elliott, MNHS director and CEO. “We respect its historical significance and integrity, and also recognize that what is displayed there today and tomorrow reflects who we are as Minnesotans. MNHS places a high value on ensuring that every Minnesotan visiting the Capitol, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or position in life should feel welcome and respected in its spaces and, ideally, represented in its art.”
The art restoration provided an opportunity to address issues relating to the Capitol’s extensive artwork.
Following much thoughtful discussion and input from many sources, several decisions were reached that will serve our state well in terms of preserving this important building, sharing our state’s history and ensuring that the Capitol is welcoming to all Minnesotans.
The 38 Governors’ portraits will return to the Capitol in time for the public grand opening in August. Additional interpretive content will be added alongside each portrait.
The six Civil War paintings in the Governor's Reception Room and Anteroom, which were commissioned as part of the Capitol’s construction in 1905, have been returned following a significant conservation effort. The art was part of architect Cass Gilbert’s original design and according to the National Register is considered a “character-defining” feature.
- “The Battle of Nashville” by Howard Pyle
- “The Fourth Minnesota Entering Vicksburg” by Francis D. Millet
- “The Second Minnesota Regiment at Missionary Ridge” by Douglas Volk
- “The Battle of Gettysburg” by Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum
- “The Third Minnesota Entering Little Rock” by Stanley M. Arthurs
- “The Fifth Minnesota at Corinth” by Edwin Blashfield
"The Second Minnesota Regiment at Missionary Ridge” by Douglas Volk
“Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony” and “The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux” paintings in the Governor's Reception Room will be relocated and interpreted more robustly elsewhere in the Capitol to share more fully the history of this time period, the significance and historical context of the paintings, and the perspectives of American Indians and others. They will be on view in time for the grand opening, Aug. 11-13.
The “Attack on New Ulm” and “Eighth Minnesota at the Battle of Ta-Ha-Kouty” paintings will be removed from exhibition at the Capitol. Discussions will continue about how best to interpret American Indian history within the Capitol, including interactions with other cultures and the contributions of American Indians today. Neither painting is original to the Capitol design, and both are painful reminders of our shared history. The “Attack on New Ulm” portrays one incident during the US-Dakota War of 1862, which not all Dakota supported. This painting should not be the primary portrayal of American Indians who have lived in Minnesota for more than 10,000 years. The “Battle of Ta-Ha-Kouty” occurred in North Dakota and is more appropriately exhibited elsewhere.
Enhanced interpretations will provide a greater opportunity for schoolchildren and all citizens to learn about our state’s history.
History of the Art
Architect Cass Gilbert commissioned the art to be placed throughout the building, including six large paintings depicting the history of Minnesota in the Governor's Reception Room. One, "The Battle of Nashville" by Howard Pyle, is widely considered one of the best paintings of a battle ever rendered. The building's elaborate senate chambers feature two 32-foot murals that were created by renowned artist Edwin Blashfield. Other artists on Gilbert's team were Kenyon Cox, John LaFarge and Elmer Garnsey, who was responsible for the overall interior decoration of the Capitol including the colorful rathskeller cafe. Featuring vaulted ceilings covered with grape vines, flowers, mythical birds and German mottos, the cafe, which was painted over during the First World War due to anti-German sentiment, has recently been restored to its original glory.