Burger, the Artist

Warren E. Burger had a keen interest in art, and always made time in his busy schedule to visit museums and art galleries. By virtue of being Chief Justice of the United States, he was also chairman of the board of the National Gallery of Art, and chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution. And the Chief Justice was artistically creative himself. He sculpted, drew and painted throughout his lifetime.

One example of this is the Benjamin Franklin bust, the original of which Burger sculpted at age 16 for a high school art class. In the 1990s it was reproduced by the Franklin Mint as a fundraiser for the Bicentennial of the Constitution.

Simple sketches, like the one shown here, can be found amidst the Chief Justices working papers.

Burger painted this still life in the spring of 1953 after he had moved to D.C. to start his new position as assistant attorney general.  The volume of the U.S. Reports he chose as an inspiration contains the 1807 case U.S. v. Aaron Burr.  Aaron Burr (1756-1836), a lawyer and politician from New York, was Vice President under Thomas Jefferson from 1801-1805.  Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804 and was indicted for treason in 1807, after he had been involved in schemes of rebellion against the United States.  Burr was acquitted by Chief Justice John Marshall, who ruled that two witnesses are needed for a treason conviction.

In this longhand note, Burger describes his thoughts about creating the still life U.S. v. Aaron Burr. The note was found taped to the back of the painting.