Largest Restoration Project to Date in the First President’s Home

MOUNT VERNON, VA – Officials at George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, unveiled on March 21 the results of the most comprehensive room research and renovation effort in the 161-year history of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. The “New Room”, the largest and grandest room in George Washington’s Mansion, has taken on a new appearance and a new interpretation. To celebrate the grand re-opening and reinterpretation of the room, Mount Vernon will display, for the first time in more than 200 years, twenty of the twenty-one pictures that were believed to hang in the space during Washington’s lifetime—including fourteen original Washington-owned works.

“Washington called this space his ?New Room’,” said Mount Vernon curator Susan Schoelwer, and it is by any standard one of the great interior spaces of early America, beautifully decorated and furnished to display his vision for the new country.”

Mount Vernon has previously interpreted this room as a formal dining room, but the latest review of the evidence suggests that the Washingtons only occasionally used it for that purpose. Using documentary research and physical evidence, Mount Vernon called upon its in-house historic preservations and collections experts as well as outside authorities in the field to arrive at an unprecedentedly accurate interpretation of the space.

The dining table has been removed, and the walls are heavily adorned with artwork, hung floor to ceiling in gallery style. Visitors are better able to admire the room’s grand architectural

 

details, design finishes, and paintings and drawings on display, just as they might have in Washington’s time.

On view through Memorial Day only, is John Trumbull’s oil portrait George Washington at Verplanck’s Point, on loan from the Winterthur Museum. Originally presented by the artist to Martha Washington in 1790, it returns to Mount Vernon for the first time in more than 200 years. Also on display through Memorial Day only is an original Washington-owned pastel portrait of Saint John the Evangelist.

Many of the objects presented in the room—including eleven works of art, four looking glasses, two silver-plated lamps, the marble mantel, and three porcelain vases—underwent conservation treatments. Mount Vernon also acquired two original Washington-owned engravings, three period duplicates of Washington-owned engravings, and two bisque porcelain figure groups to better present the art collection displayed during Washington’s lifetime.

Visitors will notice numerous changes to the room’s presentation. Although the walls are still a vibrant shade of green, new paint analysis techniques have revealed a more complex and sophisticated color scheme. The paint covering the walls has been re-applied using a special acrylic distemper technique to create a softer, fabric-like finish. The curved cove at the top of the walls is now painted white, and woodwork accents are a deeper khaki color, which Washington described as “buff inclining to white.”

The wallpaper border that accents the space is also slightly different in appearance. Through careful research, Mount Vernon officials were able to match surviving fragments found in earlier restorations of the room to a historic wallpaper pattern in the collections of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. By locating this archival pattern, Mount Vernon was able to commission a more complete and accurate reproduction of the original design.

When considering the room’s window treatments, Mount Vernon took a closer look at documentary evidence, including inventory records and Martha Washington’s will. The smaller east and west windows are adorned with white-on-white embroidered curtains, trimmed with green and gold. The room’s large Palladian window has been left bare showcasing this impressive architectural feature.

The $600,000 room restoration project was fully funded by private sources, with significant contributions from Mount Vernon donor groups including the Life Guard Society for Historic Mount Vernon and The Connoisseur Society, along with a generous donation from the Dr. Scholl Foundation. Mount Vernon also secured $100,000 to fund the project through the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2013 Partners in Preservation competition. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association owns and operates the estate and accepts no government funding.

The New Room will open to visitors at 9 a.m. on March 22. For more information and to view images of the restoration project, visit MountVernon.org/NewRoom.

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