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The New Room Renewed

After a major research and restoration effort, the largest and grandest room in George Washington’s Mount Vernon Mansion has reopened with a new look and a new interpretation that brings the room much closer to the way it appeared in Washington’s lifetime.

New Room, New Discoveries

During the past year, Mount Vernon’s Historic Preservation and Collections staff have followed in Washington’s footsteps, researching, restoring, and refurbishing his “New Room” to its moment of glory during the fleeting, three-year period after his presidency. Drawing upon both documentary and physical evidence, the project brings together the expertise of architectural historians, restoration artisans, conservators, archivists, curators, and an array of consultants and technical specialists.

A New Look for Washington's New Room

To go along with the change in the room’s name and its interpretation,
visitors will notice a number of changes to the space.

An Updated Color Scheme

New paint analysis techniques revealed that the original room's color scheme was more complex and sophisticated than previously thought, informed by fashionable English interiors designed by Robert Adam. Microscopic examination of paint samples by conservator and paint analyst Dr. Susan Buck identified two distinct copper-based pigments: a fine-textured, sea-green verditer on the broad expanses of wallpaper, and a gritty, glossy deep green verdigris, used on the friezes above the doors, the Palladian window panels, and around the top of the wallpaper. Analysis also revealed that the paint Washington specified as “buff inclining to white” for the wainscot woodwork contained the pigment yellow ochre, resulting in a richer and darker hue than previously shown.

Wallpaper and Trim

In addition to the change in interpretation, visitors to the re-opened space will notice differences in its appearance, including a new wallpaper border. A pattern book from the French wallpaper manufacturer, Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, preserved in the collections of Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, revealed a historic pattern that matches two surviving fragments found during earlier restorations of Mount Vernon’s New Room. This archival pattern enabled Adelphi Paper Hangings to create a more accurate reproduction, with a band of delicate white stripes resembling a comb adding subtle depth and definition to the design. In addition to the border, new verditer green wallpaper was hung in rolls of tipped sheets, a more historically accurate technique.

Window Treatments

The new window treatments follow a description included in Martha Washington’s will. Curtains for the smaller east and west windows are constructed of white-on-white reproduction dimity, with a custom green-gold trim to suggest the appearance of green festoons mentioned in a visitor’s account. These curtains hang from white and gilt cornice boards, replicated from examples that were conveyed to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in 1860 with a history of being original to the Mansion. The great Palladian window will remain bare to better showcase its impressive architectural details. Notably, close examination of its woodwork conducted by Dr. Susan Buck and historic textiles consultant Natalie Larson found no physical evidence of 18th-century holes for attaching curtain hardware.

Artwork & Furnishings

For the first time in more than 200 years, 20 of the 21 pictures believed to have been
displayed in the New Room are represented, including 14 original Washington-owned works.
While the dining table has been removed, many other furnishings have been cleaned and conserved,
and period-appropriate examples have been acquired or replicated where Washington’s belongings do not survive.

Garniture vase

Worcester Porcelain Manufactory, 1768-1770
Porcelain, enamel, gilt

Samuel Vaughan, an English merchant and supporter of the American cause, gave these garniture vases to George Washington, who declared them “fine and exceedingly handsome.” In 2014, Mount Vernon archaeologists, curators, and conservator united one of the vases with its original porcelain handle which had been discovered in an excavation on the west side of the Mansion in 1994. The vase’s old reproduction handles were removed and the original handle and a new reproduction based on it were put in their place, the first instance of an archaeologically-excavated fragment being mended back to a museum object at Mount Vernon.

Purchase, 1963 [W-972/A]; photograph by Gavin Ashworth

Looking glass

Philadelphia, ca. 1791–1797
Yellow poplar, white cedar, gilt, gesso, glass

Washington purchased four oval looking glasses and brackets while serving as president in Philadelphia, and he brought two back to Mount Vernon to hang in the New Room. This looking glass and its mate, the pair Washington gave away before retirement, came into Mount Vernon’s collection in 1940 with their swags bent in an unusual position. New research has revealed the vines originally draped downward. The looking glasses have been restored to their natural configuration, exuding neoclassical elegance and grace.

Purchased with funds donated by Mrs. Albert Harkness, Regent and Vice Regent for Rhode Island, in memory of her husband, Thomas I. Powel, 1940 [W-1181/B]; photograph by Gavin Ashworth

Chimney piece

Attributed to Sir Henry Cheere, London, ca. 1770
Marble, cement

Another gift from Samuel Vaughan, this marble chimney piece with pastoral scenes was sent from Vaughan’s own home in England to Washington in 1784. Washington was humbled by Vaughan’s generosity, but he remarked that the mantel was “too elegant & costly I fear for my own room, & my republican [style] of living.” Despite his initial doubts, it was installed in the New Room in 1786. Recent cleaning and conservation have highlighted the mantelpiece’s role as the room’s stunning centerpiece.

Transferred to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association through the generosity of John Augustine Washington III, 1860 [W-940]; photograph by Walter Smalling, Jr.

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