New Exhibition: Lives Bound Together
This new exhibit explores the personal stories of the people enslaved at Mount Vernon while providing insight into George Washington’s evolving opposition to slavery.
Explore both permanent and temporary exhibits and fine and decorative arts, books, and manuscripts linked directly to George Washington's life and times across the museum's seven galleries in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center.
Jean-Antoine Houdon's famous 1785 clay bust of George Washington is displayed alone with dramatic lighting in a circular, classically styled, domed gallery designed to showcase one of Mount Vernon's most prized possessions.
Created at the estate by the great French neoclassical sculptor, this bust is installed at Washington's height to give visitors an indication of how he towered over most of his contemporaries.
Adjacent to the gallery is an area where visitors can watch a short film produced by the History Channel that tells, from the perspective of Washington's step-granddaughter, Nelly Custis, how the bust and life mask were created.
The first gallery visitors encounter after viewing the Houdon bust features artifacts from England, Europe, China, and the United States that exemplify Washington's love of beauty, refined taste, status within the world, and purchasing power. Mount Vernon's holdings include a wealth of fine and decorative arts produced by artists and crafts people of the Colonial and Federal periods.
The highlight of the gallery is an elegant presidential dining table, arranged to evoke the dinners President Washington hosted every Thursday afternoon at four o'clock for congressmen and other government officials. This re-creation of the table setting includes the Washingtons' French porcelain dinner service and table ornaments, silver candlesticks, and finger bowls. A mirror at the far end of the scene gives the appearance of a much larger gathering and reflects the images of the gallery visitors as well.
Several display cases contain examples of the Washingtons' silver, ceramics, and glass, all of which recall their tasteful hospitality. Also exhibited here is a five-piece garniture set that once adorned the mantel in the Mansion at Mount Vernon; owned by the Washingtons, these pieces had not been shown together for more than 100 years prior to the creation of this galley.
Furniture demonstrating Washington's appreciation of fine craftsmanship and his preference for understated elegance is also on display, as is Gilbert Stuart's iconic portrait of the Father of Our Country.
This elegant gallery focuses on the public persona of George Washington-- both as a military leader and as commander in chief.
Objects pertaining to his renowned military career include three swords, silver camp cups, and a pair of silver spurs that he gave to a soldier at Valley Forge; the soldier used them when he rode to Boston to fetch desperately needed supplies.
There are also several pieces of the Washingtons' service of Chinese export porcelain decorated with the insignia of the Society of the Cincinnati. Washington was the first general of this hereditary association, which was composed of French and American officers of the Continental Army.
There are two paintings by Charles Wilson Peale in this gallery, one of which, from 1780, portrays Washington after the Battle of Princeton. The other, a small portrait of the first president painted after 1795, hangs near a stylish side chair made in Philadelphia and used in the president's house.
Also featured are smaller pieces, such as a pair of silver-and-paste shoe buckles said to have been worn to Washington's first inauguration, buttons made to commemorate that event, and a cabinet-sized portrait of President Washington from 1795. This elegant room is further complemented by an exquisite parquet floor that incorporates a rendering of the U.S. presidential seal.
In this largest of the permanent collection galleries, visitors get a sense of the Washingtons' daily lives.
Among the first artworks they encounter is a 12-foot-wide painting created in 1859 by Louis Remy Mignot and Thomas Pritchard Rossiter, imagining a scene with George Washington, his family, and the Marquis de Lafayette on the Mansion piazza. Ten paintings by 19th-century artist John Gadsby Chapman depict historic scenes associated with Washington's life.
A weather vane in the form of a dove of peace, which once topped the Mansion, and a sundial are among the many original Washington artifacts on view.
A domestic vignette exploring women's activities at Mount Vernon includes a heart-shaped waffle iron, coffee grinder, and other items from the kitchen at Mount Vernon.
Another area of the gallery, highlighting outdoor activities, features Washington's duck-hunting gun, hunting horn, riding crop, and fishing-tackle box. The folding camp bed, trunk, razor, and telescope he used during the Revolutionary War are displayed in an inset wall case to give viewers an an idea of how their owned lived when he was away from home.
Cases in this gallery contain personal objects that George and Martha Washington, their children, and grandchildren used and wore daily and on special occasions. Together, they reveal a perspective understanding of the power of physical appearance to communicate social position and political standing.
Items on view range from George Washington's shoe and knee buckles to Martha Washington's earrings and necklaces. One case features one of twelve shell-patterned canvaswork chair cushions stitched by Martha Washington.
Miniature portraits of the Washington family members are shown in another case. These light-sensitive items are rotated regularly to avoid over exposure.
The elegant, paneled-wood cases housing the objects enhance the opulent, treasury-like feel of this small and intimate gallery, which is anchored by a pair of mid-nineteenth-century Rembrandt Peale "porthole" portraits of George and Martha Washington.
Graced by beautiful wood paneling and a groin-vaulted ceiling, this gallery focuses on Washington's seemingly insatiable curiosity and desire to increase his understanding of the world around him, as evidenced by his manuscripts, maps, prints, and books.
Rare items from Mount Vernon's collections and on loan from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York City, the National Archives in Washington, DC, and private collectors includes a wide range of documents related to such topics as Washington's military career, presidency, his entrepreneurial activities, and family and slavery at Mount Vernon.
Two central cases feature early copies of America's founding documents-- the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Another case displays a page from George Washington's will, courtesy of Fairfax County Circuit Court.
With its tranquil aura of an elegant library, the Gilder Lehrman Gallery also contains Washington's recently restored terrestrial globe, and one of his Argand lamps, and a specimen of fan coral that he brought back from his one trip to the West Indies..