On a steamy sun-soaked afternoon last June, Queen Elizabeth I politely relinquished her place of honor in the state dining room at the Executive Mansion in Richmond. Supplanting the Virgin Queen and the first English monarch to sponsor the colonization of North America is James Monroe—Virginia’s four-time governor (1799, 1800, 1801 and 1811) and the fifth president of the United States. It was a peaceful transfer of power.
The monumental portrait of Monroe, painted by Rembrandt Peale between 1817 and 1825, replaced the more than 200-year-old portrait of the queen—a 1926 gift to Virginia from Viscount and Lady Astor—that hung in the state dining room for decades. (The queen’s portrait was moved to the Ladies Parlor.) “Monroe was the last of the founding fathers to be president,” says Scott Harris, director of the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library in Fredericksburg, “and he fought in the revolution, so there is a certain irony to sending the British monarch off to the parlor and putting Monroe there.”
The portrait is on loan to the mansion from the museum-library until February 2014 in honor of its bicentennial next year. Monroe is credited with securing the funding needed from the General Assembly to build the mansion.
Harris says seeing the portrait in such a place of honor “is certainly a gratifying experience.” But, he jokes, “I caution to make too much of this because I do want it back!” We imagine the queen feels the same way. ExecutiveMansion.Virginia.gov