"Mount Vernon" by Russell Smith

Russell Smith (1812–1896)
Mount Vernon
Oil on canvas
12 x 18 inches
Museum purchase; 1989.01.191

This representation of Mount Vernon, the home of President George Washington, was painted sometime between 1836 and 1876. Washington, himself, designed the two-story piazza, which overlooks the Potomac River and the Maryland shoreline. Over the years he even made several additions to the house. Here we see that Smith has depicted Mount Vernon with the cupola on the top of the structure as well as the beautiful "dove of peace" weathervane, which was added after the Revolutionary War. By framing the scene with trees on the right and left sides of the canvas, Smith has followed traditional styles of early to mid-nineteenth-century landscape painting. However, the plants and the brick wall in the foreground of the scene suggest something more than a traditional painting of an historic building. It is likely that the painting was completed during or after the Civil War. In the foreground, plants have overgrown a brick wall that is already dilapidated. During nineteenth-century America, there was a growing interest in artistic themes that emphasized the progress of society and its inevitable fall and return to nature. Painting an image of one of our founding fathers' home during this period of national conflict, Smith may be referencing a concern with the fate of the new nation.