Kennedy Department of Justice Building: Biddle Frescoes – Washington DC

Project type: Art, Murals
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Description

The New Deal is responsible for a magnificent array of artworks that embellish the Department of Justice building. The Treasury Section of Fine Arts commissioned artists to create 68 murals between 1936 and 1941 for $68,000, or one percent of the building cost.  The building’s murals depict scenes of daily life from American history and allegories on the role of justice in American society.

George Biddle painted a five-panel fresco mural, “Society Freed through Justice,” in 1936.  The second panel was restored c. 1973, after damage to the wall behind it.

“This five-panel mural illustrates the importance of justice in the lives of common man. Through Society Freed Through Justice, George Biddle has defined the contrast between the lives of workers in an unjust economic system versus an equitable social order.” (DoJ 2009, p. 59).

Biddle included portraits of many his friends and family members, including prominent New Dealers.  The first panel, for example, shows economist Stuart Chase and Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins.  The third panel includes the artist’s brother, Francis Biddle, former chair of the chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (and later U.S. Attorney General); Malcolm Ross, press agent of the National Labor Relations Board; and Edward Rowan, Assistant Director of the Public Works of Art Project. In the third panel, one finds Camille Miller of the National Youth Administration.

Apparently, George Biddle suggested establishing Federal support for the arts in a letter to his former Groton Academy classmate, newly-elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Biddle mural is located on the fifth floor of the Justice Building, just outside of the Library. The five panels are shown in order below, followed by detail shots.

 

 

Source notes

U.S. Department of Justice, The Robert F. Kennedy Building: Celebrating Art and Architecture on the 75th Anniversary, 1934-2009, pp. 59-61.

Project originally submitted by Charles Swaney on March 14, 2014.
Additional contributions by Richard Walker.

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Location Info


950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

Coordinates: 38.8929, -77.0250

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