The Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages

formerly The Museums at Stony Brook

Stony Brook, NY

631-751-0066

http://www.longislandmuseum.org


 

A Painter's Studio is Everywhere: Paintings by William Sidney Mount

 

"A Painter's Studio is Everywhere: Paintings by William Sidney Mount," opened September 15, 2001 at The Long Island Museum. The exhibition, on view in the Member's Gallery of the Art Museum, features eleven paintings by the renowned American genre painter William Sidney Mount, from the museum's unparalleled collection of his works. The beauty of the exhibition extends beyond the art itself and lies in the insights provided by Mount's personal written accounts ofthe paintings - their meanings and the inspiration behind them. Archival pieces on view, including Mount's original diaries and letters, shed further light on the private thoughts of this publicly acclaimed figure. Despite the charming misspellings and grammatical errors, Mount's written words on everything from politics to morality to artistic techniques paint a bold picture all their own.

Among the works on view are Farmers Nooning (1836), which brings to light Mount's preoccupation with nature and sunlight. One of his diary entries in 1850 notes, "In painting a landscape - the shadows should be considered first; the more shadow, the more impressive the picture."

Mount also kept a record of his social calendar, including visits by other painters. On one such visit in October of 1848, his friend, artist Charles Loring Elliot, painted Mount's portrait. In his writings of it, Mount recounts "He has promised - sometime previous - that if I would sport a pair of moustaches, he would make me a present of my portrait. The hair and canvass was ready, and Elliot painted one of his best portraits. A man with a beard is nature in her glory." Catch this natural wonder, on view, in A Painter's Studio is Everywhere. (left: Charles Loring Elliot, William Sidney Mount, 1848)

 

Selected label text and wall text from the gallery exhibition

 

A PAINTER'S STUDIO IS EVERYWHERE

Paintings by William Sidney Mount (1807-1868)

 

William Sidney Mount was born in Setauket, Long Island, and as a young boy moved, along with his brothers and sister, to nearby Stony Brook with his widowed mother, to live with her extended family. He studied painting in New York City at the National Academy of Design, the nation's foremost art school, where his work was exhibited throughout his career. (left: William Sidney Mount, The Novice, 1847, oil on canvas, 0.1.4.992)

In his early years Mount primarily painted works with historical and literary themes. In 1829 the artist began to paint portraits and scenes from everyday life, or genre paintings. Mount's scenes of rural life immediately became popular, both in the United States and abroad. By the middle of the nineteenth century he was one of the most renowned artists in America, with more commissions than he could fulfill.

While Mount had several opportunities to study abroad, he always declined, maintaining a strong nationalistic pride. He felt that such a trip might hamper his efforts to speak directly and simply to his fellow Americans through his genre paintings. Most of his famous works were created right here in Stony Brook.

Mount recorded everything. His diaries and correspondence ­ filled with misspellings and grammatical errors ­ include myriad opinions and observations on painting techniques, subjects for compositions, politics, music, morality, health, and the weather. These records greatly expand our insight into Mount's art.

Each of the labels accompanying the paintings has been taken directly from the vast written material that Mount left behind. At times, Mount speaks very generally about his works, discussing technique, mood and composition. At other times he speaks very specifically about his art, as he does with his work The Novice. These specific observations are extremely helpful to art historians, as they are often the only glimpse into the artist's mind during the creative process.

Do you like to paint or draw? Where is your favorite place to sit down and make a picture? William Sidney Mount, a painter from Stony Brook, thought that a painter should paint anywhere he liked. He even made a studio, or workshop, on wheels so that he could paint wherever he chose!

William Sidney Mount was born in Setauket, Long Island, on November 26, 1807. After his father died in 1814, he was sent to live with his uncle in New York City. At age seventeen, William went to work with to his older brother Henry, a sign painter, as an apprentice (someone who is learning a trade). Then he entered an art school called the National Academy of Design.

In 1829, William Sidney Mount came back to Long Island. He became famous for painting scenes of everyday life, called genre paintings. His paintings help us see what life was like over a hundred and fifty years ago.

Follow William Sidney Mount's palette [ILLUSTRATE ONE HERE] through the exhibit to explore how and why Mr. Mount painted as he did.

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Charles Loring Elliot (1812-1868), William Sidney Mount, 1848, Oil on canvas, Gift of Edith Douglass, Mary Rackcliffe and Andrew E. Douglass in memory of Mrs. Moses Douglass and Mrs. Scott Kidder, 1956

The last of Oct. 1848, Mr. Elliot made a visit at Stony Brook. He had promised ­ sometime previous ­ that if I would sport a pair of moustaches, he would make me a present of my portrait. The hair and canvass was ready, and Elliot painted one of his best portraits. A man with a beard is nature in her glory.
 
Diary entry, January 1854

William Sidney Mount's artist friend, Charles Loring Elliot, said he would paint his portrait, or a picture of him, if he agreed to grow whiskers. Mr. Mount did just that! How do we get pictures of our friends and family today?

 

Benjamin Franklin Thompson, 1834, Oil on canvas, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ward Melville, 1975

I had a visit to day from Benj. Franklin Thompson. He had a great deal to say about the Monument to Gen. Nathaniel Woodhull ­ he is one of the committee to carry it into execution. It is a noble undertaking and when finished will do honor to Long Island ­ and those concerned in it.
 
Diary entry, December 12, 1848

William Sidney Mount also painted pictures of people, called portraits. Compare this painting to the painting of Mr. Mount's sister, Ruth.

 

The Novice, 1847, Oil on canvas, Museum Purchase, 1962

I am pleased that you like my picture of the Novice, and speak so free of it. . . . In many respects, I think it is my best picture. . . . Mr. Patterson, a friend of mine and a love of painting, says that it is the most brilliant in colour that I have painted. .. . In the Novice I wished to preserve breadth and to tell my story. If figures are principal, everything else should be subordinate depending on the taste of the artist. When landscape is primo, and figures are introduced, they are and must be secondo.
 
Letter to Charles Lanman, September 9, 1847

William Sidney Mount liked to paint people enjoying music. He played the violin and even wrote a song. A novice is a beginner. Who is the novice in this painting?

 

Portrait of Ruth Mount Seabury, 1831, Oil on canvas, Gift of Mary Rackcliffe and Edith Douglass, 1970

My sister, Ruth H. Seabury, although the youngest, displayed the first taste in painting when 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 to me an object of great attraction.
 
Autobiographical sketch, undated

William Sidney Mount said he first got interested in painting after watching his sister, Ruth, paint when they were children. Look to see how Mr. Mount used many simple shapes, like circles, triangles and squares to make his sister's picture. How many different shapes can you find?

 

Farmers Nooning, 1836, Oil on canvas, Gift of Frederick Sturges, 1954

As long ago as 1836 when I was painting The Farmers nooning ­ my late brother H. S. Mount, handed me a piece of native umber found in the banks near this place and desired me to make use of it in my picture ­ I did so ­ and found it as he had represented, transparent, and a good dryer ­ I have used it more or less ever since and find it a valuable pigment In the gradations of flesh, with white it is truly delightful.
 
Letter to Benjamin Thompson, December 31, 1848

William Sidney Mount used colors and shadows to make his paintings look more real. Can you find the shadows in this painting? Count all the different colors Mr. Mount used to just paint the trees and sky. Look at the other paintings and see if you can find any of the same colors.

 

Right and Left, 1850, Oil on canvas, Museum Purchase, 1956

I believe I must have a violin in my studio ­ to practice upon. To stimulate me more to painting. I remember that when I painted my best pictures I played upon the violin much more than I do now. The violin was the favorite instrument of Wilkie. All the great painters were fond of music.
 
Diary entry, February 16, 1863

William Sidney Mount knew the musician who sat for this portrait. Count how many people are playing or enjoying music in all of Mr. Mount's paintings.

 

Dancing on the Barn Floor, 1831, Oil on canvas, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ward Melville, 1955

In finishing a painting be careful and give force to the foreground ­ darks and lights. Strengthening the foreground tones down the distance.
 
Diary entry, April 1, 1851

William Sidney Mount's paintings also showed people at play. The man playing the violin is in the front, or foreground. The dancing man and woman are in the middle ground. The woman with the broom is in the background. How does Mr. Mount use different sizes and colors to make things look further away or closer up?

 

Catching Rabbits, 1839, Oil on panel, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ward Melville, 1958

Boys Trapping ­ painted for Chas. A. Davis of N.Y. in 1839 ­ it is now in Paris under the magic hand of Leon Noel, and then both of the . . . pictures [this one and Just in Tune], after serving the purposes of the engraver, are to be exhibited in the ensuing collection of paintings at the Tuilleries.
 
Letter to Charles Lanman, January 7, 1850

Compare this painting to Catching Crabs. How are the paintings alike? How are they different? Which person would you like to be in either of these paintings?

 

Catching Crabs, 1865, Oil on canvas, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ward Melville, 1958

I must paint such pictures as speak at once to the spectator, scenes that are most popular ­ that will be understood on the instant.
 
Diary entry, July 1, 1850

William Sidney Mount lived most of his life on Long Island and he painted many Long Island landscapes or outdoor scenes. What are some of the different farm jobs Mr. Mount showed in this painting? Does he make farm life look easy or hard? How does he give you that feeling?

 

The Sportsman's Last Visit, 1835, Oil on canvas, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ward Melville, 1958

. . . painted in Setauket in 1835 at the house of Gen. Satterlee by the aid of two south windows in winter and separated by a curtain to divide the two lights. The artist by one window & the model by the other. . . .
 
Diary entry, November 14, 1852

William Sidney Mount liked to use natural light in his paintings. Which character does the light shine on in this painting? In what other ways are your eyes drawn to this person?

 

Mischievous Drop, 1857, Oil on canvas, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ward Melville, 1955

Strive more to paint from memory the scenes you witness. To sketch or paint them daily as they occur.
 
Diary entry, 1857

Many of William Sidney Mount's paintings tell stories. What do you think might happen next?

rev. 10/3/01

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