The Sacred Flame (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow)

Henry Oliver Walker




West Grand Staircase

Date Completed

Date Placed

Description from a letter from the artist to Channing Seabury, chairman of the Capitol Commission

The painting for the lunette over the entrance to the Senate Chamber has for its subject “The Progress of the Flame”.

The composition is an arrangement of three draped female figures. The central and most important one is that of a mature and thoughtful woman, seated, bearing in her outstretched right hand a blazing torch which she has lighted at a fire seen burning on the ground beside her. The fire is kept alive by an aged woman, half kneeling, who throws twigs upon it. The torch in the hand of the central figure is lighting a lamp held by a youthful, floating figure which appears to be passing onward to the left. The arrangement of the personages explains at a glance the idea of the painting –which is the transmission of a flame from the Past, by the Present, to the Future. The flame may be “Civilization”, or “Thought”, or “Knowledge”, or even “Being” itself; perhaps the Sacred Flame of the Greeks and Romans. In fact, the central figure, called in this instance “The Present”, bows her head deep in emotion at the seriousness of her task. The figures are placed among rocks, apparently in a high place, and above them are clouds; below them, afar off, is a plain with towers, as of distant cities.