John Nelson was born in Frederick, Maryland, on June 1, 1791. He graduated from William and Mary College in 1811 and began practicing law in Maryland. He also received an A.M. degree from Princeton University in 1825.
From 1821 to 1823 Nelson served as a Representative in Congress from Maryland. In 1831 he was appointed Charge d’Affaires to the Two Sicilies. President Tyler appointed him Attorney General of the United States on July 1, 1843, and he served until March of 1845. He also served as Secretary of State ad interim toward the end of the Tyler Administration. He died in Baltimore, Maryland, on January 18, 1860.
Thorp was born in Ohio in 1844 and did not begin the study of art until he was twenty years old. During the 1870's he maintained a studio in the United States Capitol and painted many Government officials and other notables, including Grant, Lee, Sherman and Sheridan.
One of his portraits of Abraham Lincoln (made from earlier sketches) was purchased in 1920 for exhibition in the Senate Corridor of the United States Capitol. His portrait of Attorney General Nelson was painted in 1872.