The Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages
formerly The Museums at Stony Brook
Stony Brook, NY
Is Art Hereditary? The Mounts, A Family of Painters
June 23 through September 9, 2001
William Sidney Mount, termed America's finest genre painter, is an acclaimed artist who achieved international recognition. What may not be so widely known is that Mount comes from a family of painters, each important to the art scene in their own right. The Is Art Hereditary? The Mounts, A Family of Painters exhibition examines the work of other, lesser known Mount family members. In the gallery will be impressive works from Mount's brothers, sister, and niece.
It was actually William's eldest brother, Henry Smith Mount (1802-1841) who provided his younger brothers with their first glance into the New York art scene. Henry painted primarily still lifes. Among his works on display during this exhibition are Girls and Pigs (1831) and Fish (1831).
Next in the Mount family of painters is Shepard Alonzo Mount (1804-1868). The springboard for his art training was initially in the painting of carriages. This honed his vision for a unified style, application of color theory and the harmonious placement of color. He went on to study at the National Academy of Design and to achieve success as a portrait painter. Some of his portraits on display include Rose of Shannon (Remember Me) (1863), and Portrait of William Sidney Mount.
The youngest Mount sibling, Ruth Hawkins Mount (1808-1888) was, ironically, the first to express an interest in painting. She studied formally and worked primarily in watercolors. Her collection reflects traditional 19th century women's art. Her L'Orage (The Storm) (1820-1826) watercolor on paper is part of the exhibit.
The painting tradition lived on in the next generation of Mounts, when Evelina (1837-1920), daughter of Henry Smith Mount, gravitated to a life as artist. Raised in Stony Brook, her family home served as subject for most of her paintings. Her floral paintings are deemed her most original in concept. Catching Butterflies (1867) is among her works on view.
The most acclaimed of the Mount family of painters, William Sidney Mount (1807-1868), is also represented in the exhibition. Famed mainly for his scenes from "ordinary life," he also attained significant success as a landscape painter and portraitist. Featured in this exhibit are Dance of the Haymakers (1845) and Shepard Alonzo Mount (1847).
Following is wall text from the exhibition:
The oldest of four artistic brothers, Henry Smith Mount (1802-1841), was primarily a painter of still lifes. As a young man, he studied sign and ornamental painting and by 1824 had his own sign-painting business in New York City. It was Henry who gave his brothers Shepard and William their first exposure to the New York art scene. Henry's election as an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1828 gave him the opportunity to advance his talents, and his two artist brothers would follow him.
Shepard Alonzo Mount (1804-1868) was initially trained in the art of painting carriages, which enabled him to sharpen his eye for concerns of unified style, application of color theory, and the arrangement of harmonious colors. Later he studied at the National Academy of Design and went on to become a successful and well known portrait painter.
Robert Nelson Mount (1806-1883) exercised his artistic talents in another way--through music. He was a traveling musician and dance teacher in the American South for most of his life but kept in close touch with his Long Island family through frequent correspondence and occasional visits.
The career of William Sidney Mount (1807-1868) was one of the great success stories of the nineteenth-century American art world. Also a product of the National Academy of Design, by his early thirties he was praised by a New York critic as "one of the most gifted artists that ever lived." For most of the rest of his life, he had patrons waiting in line to buy works from him. He is best known for his paintings of genre subjects, scenes from "ordinary life." He was also an accomplished portraitist and landscape painter, and his works were reproduced and distributed throughout Europe and the United States.
The only Mount sister, Ruth Hawkins Mount (1808-1888), was the youngest child but the first to express an interest in painting. William recounts in his autobiography that she was an influence on him, rather than vice versa: "at the early age of eleven she took lessons of Mrs. Spinola. Then you could have seen me looking over my sister's shoulder with my straw hat in hand, to see how she put on the colours. A picture was then, and always has been a great object of attraction."
Evelina Mount (1837-1920): daughter of Henry, was a member
of the following generation. "Nina" was raised in Stony Brook
in the Hawkins-Mount family homestead. She was undoubtedly influenced by
the art of her uncles William and Shepard and, as they did, used the family
home as a frequent subject for her paintings. She probably did not consider
herself a professional, and rarely sold work. The most original in concept
are her floral paintings.
Background and caption information for the exhibition:
(left: Ruth Hawkins Mount (1808-1888), L 'Orage (The Storm), 1820-26, Watercolor on paper, Gift of Mary Rackliffe and Edith Douglass, 1970)
The only daughter of Julia Ann Hawkins and Thomas Shepard Mount, Ruth was the first member of the Mount family to take an interest in painting. William recounts in his autobiography, "at the early age of eleven she took lessons of Mrs. Spinola. Then you could have seen me looking over my sister's shoulder, with my straw hat in hand, to see how she put on the colours. A picture was then, and always has been an object of great attraction." Ruth later married Charles Saltonstall Seabury, a local piano maker.
(left: Henry Smith Mount (1802-1841), Girl and Pigs, c. 1831, Oil on panel, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ward Melville, 1976)
William Sidney Mount included this painting of pigs by his brother Henry in his composition for California News. It has been suggested, that this is the artist's silent comment on the greed of those who hunger for gold.
The oldest of the Mount brothers, Henry Smith Mount was primarily a painter of still lifes. As a young man, he studied sign and ornamental painting with Lewis Child, and by 1824 he had his own sign business on Chatham Street in New York City. It was Henry who gave his brothers Shepard and William their first exposure to the New York art scene. Henry's election as an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1828 gave him the opportunity to advance his talents from sign painting to still-life painting. From 1828 until his death, he exhibited a total of eighteen paintings at the National Academy annuals.
(left: Shepard Alonzo Mount (1804-1868), Rose of Sharon (Remember Me), 1863, Oil on canvas, Gift of the Estate of Dorothy deBevoise Mount, 1959)
In 1861, Shepard Mount's daughter Ruth ("Tutie") died from tuberculosis. The family's sorrow at her untimely death at the age of nineteen was compounded by the fact that she had just been married. Tutie was her father's favorite model, and she appeared in many of his "fancy pictures" where she epitomized the ideal female. In addition to the loss of his daughter, Shepard was further grief-stricken in 1863 when he learned that his eldest son, William Shepard Mount, had been arrested and imprisoned as a spy during the Civil War. This situation coupled with Tutie's death may have prompted him to paint Rose of Sharon (Remember Me).
The flowers in the work have been interpreted as an allegory of the human life cycle. The largest rose of Sharon flower in the vase is Shepard Mount himself. Shielded behind it are two buds meant to signify the artist's two younger sons, Joshua and Robert. The separated red flower in the vase symbolizes William Shepard Mount and his uncertain fate. Finally, Mount depicts the deceased Tutie in the form of the ripped bud lying on the ground. Tutie's soul is represented above the vase of flowers in the form of a shooting star rising towards the heavens.
(left: Shepard Alonzo Mount (1804-1868), Portrait of Camille Mount, 1868, Oil on canvas, Gift of the Estate of Dorothy deBevoise Mount, 1959)
Camille, daughter of Joshua Elliot Mount and Edna Searing Mount and granddaughter of Shepard, died before her second birthday. In a letter to his son William, Shepard writes,
Painting posthumous portraits was a common nineteenth-century mourning ritual. William Sidney Mount, for instance, received many commissions for mourning portraits, several of which are in our own art collection.
(left: William Sidney Mount (1807-1868), Portrait of Shepard Alonzo Mount, 1847, Oil on canvas, Museum Purchase, 1960; right: Shepard Alonzo Mount (1804-1868), Portrait of William Sidney Mount, 1857, Oil on panel, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ward Melville, 1976)
Throughout their lives, Shepard and William Mount maintained
a close working and personal relationship, attending functions at the National
Academy together, acting as business partners, and sometimes living with
each other. When Shepard died in 1868, William was distraught and immediately
arranged for a retrospective exhibition to be hung at the National Academy
of Design. The following fall, William was stricken with pneumonia and died,
only four months after his older brother.
Read more about the Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages in Resource Library Magazine
Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.
For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/28/11
Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.
Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.