The Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies have the largest privately-owned portrait collection in the Southeastern United States. The Dialectic Society Collection is comprised of fifty-two portrait paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, and busts, while the Philanthropic Society Collection has fifty. The Joint-Senate also owns eight pieces, giving the Society Collections a total of one hundred ten artworks. Some portraits are displayed outside of the Society Chambers in places such as Wilson Library and the UNC System President’s home.
- The Phi Society began collecting portraits first in 1818. The Dis made their first portrait acquisition several years later in 1826.
- The portrait of US President James K. Polk is one of the few likenesses of him to be painted from life and the only one painted while he held office (1847).
- The portrait of Thomas L. Clingman (in an orator’s pose) is among the most notable in the collection and is unique in the foreshortening of his upraised right arm, a difficult artistic technique seldom seen in portraiture.
- The painting of the Archangel Michael is thought to be painted by Samuel Morse (of Morse Code fame) as a copy of Guido Reni’s original in the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, Rome.
- The portrait of Benjamin Franklin was bought for $10. The frame cost $15.
- The Societies own twenty-one portraits by William Garl Browne, making our holdings one of the largest collections of his work.
A full catalog website for the Dialectic and Philanthropic Society Portrait Collection is still under construction, but for now please see a diagram and description of all the portraits exhibited in our chambers in the Petitioning Guide. Low-resolution images of the works exhibited in the chambers can be found here. Below are some more documents related to our portrait collection and the historic furnishings of the chambers.
Additional Portrait Resources
- “Portraits Introduce Restorer to University,” Alumni Review article, by Arthur Bye (1943).
- “The Society Portraits: Talk Made before the Phi Society,” by Gladys Hall Coates (1946).
- The Dis and the Phis, an epic poem about our portraits, by President Emeritus Daniel Friedman, updated by Alumnus Senator John O’Connor, 2011.
- The Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies Portraits: an Honors Essay by Joseph K. L. Reckford (1981).
- “Thomas Day: Art Rises above Prejudice,” unc.edu (2011).