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William Birch's prospect of Mount Vernon's east front was one of the most widely circulated images of the estate in the nineteenth century. The English-born artist possibly executed this finely-detailed sketch, from which all the later engravings are derived, as early as 1801 - making it a very rare early view. Birch carefully delineated the architectural features, including such elements as the post and chain fence around the carriage circle beyond the colonnade, the Palladian window at the north end of the mansion, and the entrance to the cellar, as well as a figure representing George Washington on the piazza. The work was engraved by at least 1804, and appeared in Birch’s 1808 publication Country Seats of the United States. There he hailed it as “This hallowed mansion . . . founded upon a rocky eminence.” The estate’s new status as a sacred national shrine drove both print sales and increased visitation to the actual site.

Description

A landscape view of Mount Vernon’s mansion, north colonnade and east lawn, presented in a horizontal and rectangular format. The mansion and colonnade occupy the right middle ground. They are framed by a stand of eight trees at right front and two trees, and the top of a third, at the left edge before the Potomac River and Maryland shore. More trees appear behind the colonnade. There is a triangle of sunlight at the left corner of the mansion. A brighter area of grass just in front of the piazza delineates the downward slope to the lawn. A uniformed figure in a black tricorn hat stands on the piazza between the first and second column from the right. In the right foreground, a man wearing a black hat, red jacket, blue pants, and black shoes is holding the reins of a white horse. The horse is shown in profile and has raised its front right leg; both man and horse appear to be in motion. A chestnut foal is pictured untethered and frolicking on the expansive east lawn. Blue sky and white and gray clouds fill the upper background.

The drawing is mounted to a second piece of paper which bears a brown ink inscription; it is currently unframed.

Date

c. 1801-1803


People


Geography


Material/Technique

Watercolor, ink over graphite on paper


Dimensions

Overall (H x W): 10 1/8 in. × 13 1/2 in. (25.72 cm × 34.29 cm)
Other (H x W Image Sheet): 7 1/4 in. × 9 7/8 in. (18.42 cm × 25.08 cm)


Credit Line

Gift of Robert L. McNeil, Jr., 2005
Conservation courtesy of the Roller-Bottimore Foundation


Object Number

Print-6193


Colors (Beta)


Mount Vernon's object research is ongoing and information about this object is subject to change. For information on image use and reproductions, click here.
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