The Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages

formerly The Museums at Stony Brook

Stony Brook, NY



From Cradle to Grave: The Works of William Sidney Mount


A new exhibition exploring the depiction of the human life cycle in the paintings of American genre painter William Sidney Mount opens January 13, 2001 at the Long Island Museum of American Art, History & Carriages. From Cradle to Grave: The Works of William Sidney Mount features 15 original works by the renowned artist. Organized by The Long Island Museum and drawn from its collection, the exhibition will be on view through June 17, 2001 in the Members Gallery of the Art Museum. (left: School Boys Quarreling, 1830, oil on canvas, Museum purchase)

Nineteenth-century Americans had distinct ideas of how each stage of life should be rendered. The classical depictions in the prints The Life & Age of Man and The Life & Age of Woman, published by James Baillie in 1848, are used in the exhibition as a springboard for discussion of the 19th-century perception of aging as recorded and interpreted by Mount. (right: The Sportsman's Last Visit, 1835, oil on canvas, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ward Melville, 1958)

The exhibition begins with the portrayal of childhood in Mount's works School Boys Quarreling (1830) and Mischievous Drop (1857). The rituals of adolescence and young adulthood are also included, as in The Sportsman's Last Visit (1835) where courtship is the focal subject. (left: Girl Asleep (Maria Seabury), 1843, oil on canvas mounted on panel, Museum purchase, 1956)

"Middle age" was held to be the most productive period of 19th-century life. Frequently Mount used local residents as subjects for his works, depicting the gentleman farmer working or discussing politics, for example. Long Island Farmer Husking Corn (1834) and Herald in the Country (1853) are two wonderful portrayals of the prosperity, energy and intellect of the 19th-century adult figure.

Mount used elderly models as subjects for many of his works. The rather gaunt portrait of his mother, Julia Ann Hawkins Mount (1830), is a good example. Painted when Mrs. Mount was only 43, she had by that time endured eight pregnancies - five children lived past infancy - and had been a widow for over 15 years. In this work, her son sensitively captures the effect on her of this difficult life.

Finally, Mount's interest in spiritualism, combined with 19th-century mourning rites, led to his production of posthumous paintings. Among the best known are his portraits of Jedidiah Wlliamson (1837) and Susie T. Marsh (1860), who both died in childhood. Although Mount realized that commissioning a death portrait of a child was part of the mourning and grieving process for families who could afford it, he disliked this type of work and was known to charge more than double his regular fee for such paintings.

rev. 1/3/01

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/27/11

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