William C. Preston

Copied George Peter Alexander Healy, William C. Preston, 1842, oil on canvas, 3629 in. (91.473.6 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the National Institute, XX112
Free to use

Artwork Details

William C. Preston
Not on view
3629 in. (91.473.6 cm)
lower left in oil: Geo. P.A. Healy Pinxt/Washington 1842. stretcher upper left in felt-tipped pen and ink: XX112 stretcher lower left in pencil: 137 (written upside-down)
Credit Line
Transfer from the National Institute
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Occupation — political — statesman
  • Portrait male — Preston, William C. — waist length
Object Number

Artwork Description

William Preston of South Carolina was one of several senators who nearly derailed the founding of the Smithsonian Institution. James Smithson, illegitimate son of England’s Duke of Northumberland, was a noted natural scientist. His considerable fortune went to the United States government in 1835 "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge." Like many of his fellow senators, William Preston argued against accepting Smithson’s gift, insisting that the United States should not take such a substantial amount of money from an English aristocrat. Preston was won over, however, and, with President Andrew Jackson's support, Congress voted to accept the bequest from Smithson.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006