New England artist William Matthew Prior painted this distinctive view of Mount Vernon, one of a group of at least thirteen, in the mid-nineteenth century. Now generally considered a folk artist, Prior structured the sale of his paintings based on their degree of finish. Best-known as a portraitist, he began producing landscapes following the advent of photography, and focused on three main themes: Mount Vernon, winter scenes, and night or moonlight scenes. Prior based his Mount Vernon views on a widely-published engraving after W.H. Brooke featuring the new tomb, old tomb and mansion. Each of the works in the Mount Vernon collection is different, showing the estate in different seasons as well as times of day. This unique scene of the estate on a winter evening incorporates all three of Prior’s specialties. Though based on the Brooke, the artist invented the snow and the two unusual foreground figures, who gesture animatedly toward Washington’s tomb.
Horizontal landscape view of Mount Vernon at evening in winter, with surfaces outlined in white as if covered in snow. The new tomb is shown in the left foreground, with the mansion, colonnade, and kitchen above on a hill in the left background. The mansion appears cream-colored, in contrast to its snowy roof, while the outbuildings are grey with snowy roofs. The “summer house” pavilion is in the center, with the old tomb below and just to the right of it. Two figures with walking sticks and red mittens are in the center foreground. The right figure is wearing a dark coat and trousers with a red cap or turban, and gestures toward the tomb; the left figure wears a brown coat and trousers and black hat, and leans forward. The tomb is a pale brick color with dotted black lines representing brickwork. A large vine-wrapped tree appears in the right foreground, with the Potomac River and Maryland shore behind it. The sky behind is pale blue with very pink tones, particularly at left, and white and cream clouds; the mountains are snow-covered with pink accents.
It is housed in a decorative gilt wood frame.
Oil on canvas; wood
Overall: 31 3/8 in. × 24 3/4 in. × 3 1/2 in. (79.69 cm × 62.87 cm × 8.89 cm)
Other: 18 3/4 in. × 25 3/8 in. (47.63 cm × 64.45 cm)
Purchased by the A. Alfred Taubman Acquisition Endowment Fund, 1998
On the reverse of the canvas, at middle right, stenciled in black paint: “PAINTING GARRET/ No. 36 Trenton St./ EAST BOSTON/ W. M. PRIOR.”
On bottom edge of stretcher bar, in pencil: “Mount Vernon.”
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