School of Education
The Arts: an Interdisciplinary Experience
Prof John Toth
|12||Washington and Lafayette at Mount Vernon|
Hello, my name is John Toth and I will be your virtual tour guide for this Hunter College: The Arts and Aesthetics. This pod cast is designed for artworks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I would like to invite you to take an aesthetic journey, where seeing, thinking, listening, feeling and communicating intersect within the space of a work of art.
Rather than presenting a lecture on 19th Century American Art History, I will ask you a series of questions that are strategically designed to encourage careful noticing. You will be called upon to describe, analyze, interpret, sketch, research and write about ideas, details and choices that are present in the work of art.
Finally you will be asked to utilize all the media you generated during this journey to make your own reflective artwork. This could be organized as a collage, concrete poem, summary, commentary, presentation, videotape, camera slide show, web cast, pod cast or a medium of your own personal choice.
The aesthetic process will help you build bridges across multiple languages and knowledge modalities allowing you to discover pathways into the symbolic meanings within the work of art through the actual experience of exploring similar choices in the construction of your own creative communication.
The objective of this journey is to encourage you to find new ways to enjoy constructing meaning and the pleasure of finding things out.
The title of this painting is
Washington and Lafayette at Mount Vernon.
It was painted in 1859 by
Thomas Pritchard Rossiter (res - e - tay) (1818–1871);
Louis Remy Mignot (mng-no) (1831–1870)
This painting depicts George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon in 1784, one year after the American Revolutionary War.
My initial questions will ask you to consider the fact that this artwork was painted in 1859, seventy-six years after the American Revolutionary War and two years before the American Civil War.
How does Mignot and Rossiter use symbolic language to communicate a romantic expression of an early American moment in history? How is the use of body language, facial expression, personal objects, lighting, color, shapes and styles used to communicate meaning and emotion?
CENTER OF THE PAINTING
Now I will ask you to look at the two men in the center of the painting. How does their body language communicate meaning?
Describe and analyze the positioning of their arms and legs? What does their body language suggest? What do you notice that makes you say that?
Compare the posture of the two men. What does posture communicate? What do their hand gestures express? What does it suggest that Lafayette is leaning on the column?
What does their eye contact suggest?
What do their eyes reveal about what they are thinking and feeling?
If George Washington could speak what would he say?
Take a moment to draw and sketch the shapes of their eyes? How do the shapes of eyebrows change with different moods?
What do their personal possessions say about their status? What details in the painting tell you what Washington values?
What is Lafayette holding behind his back? Why?
What do you think was written in the Pennsylvania Gazette that would cause him to hold it behind his back?
Why is Lafayette holding the chair? What kind of chair is it? Can you identify the different cultural styles of the chairs in this painting? What could the placement of the different styles of chairs suggest?
Consider going on an antique furniture research mission to the 18th century period rooms to brush up on your knowledge of furniture syles.
Sketch the basic shapes of chairs from different cultural styles. Use circles, squares, rectangles, triangles and lines to sketch the shapes, designs and patterns that you notice. Look at British furniture (Chippendale style), look at French furniture (Louis XV, XVI, Rococo and Empire styles) and check out the Federal style in American furniture. Compare and contrast these styles. What do you think the newly formed American citizens would think about British design after the American Revolution War in 1783? (Paris Peace Treaty)
OBJECTS ON THE STEPS AT MOUNT VERNON
Sketch the objects on the steps, just left of the center of the painting. What are these objects used for? Why are they lying there? Is there something symbolic about them? What makes you say that? Do these objects relate to something else in the painting?
What cultural symbols do you see?
What similarities and differences can you find in the styles of clothing they wear? Describe shapes, colors, patterns and designs. Do the designs remind you of specific cultures?
Draw simple sketches of their shoes, vests, coats, socks, personal items, etc. paying attention to differences in patterns and designs.
Also, try to find similar designs and symbols in other paintings in the nearby galleries.
Look at the metal smith designs of Paul Revere in the next gallery. (Just outside the glass doors) How is Revere’s style different from European styles?
Look for earlier examples of French and British designs and symbols that are engraved on the art in the Arms and Armor galleries downstairs. Sketch and compare.
What are the children doing? What are they playing with? What is the girl holding up to her face? Why? What is the boy holding onto? Have you ever played with toys like this? Is there anything symbolic about what they are playing with? At what age did young boys go into the army? Draw a line from the toy canon across the lawn and through the hole in the trees… what does it lead your eye to? How old were Washington’s stepchildren in 1784? How old were Washington’s adopted children in 1784?
How well do the children know each other? What do you see that tells you so? Can you tell the status of these two children based on their cloths or other features?
How do the two dogs react to the children and why? Describe the dogs. What breed are they? Are the dogs symbolic of anything? Why are there farm animals on Washington’s front lawn? What kind of animals are they? What was Washington’s livelihood? What evidence do you see in the painting?
WOMEN AND CHILD
Describe their clothing. What kind of fabrics do they wear? Describe the surface and texture of their cloths. What kind of event are they dressed for? When do you dress up like this? What differences do you see in their styles? What are the women doing? If they were to speak, what would they be talking about? What does their facial expression say about what they are thinking or feeling? Does the work they are doing demand a lot of concentration?
What is the young girl doing? How does she feel? What is she thinking about? What was she doing a while before? Describe the things on the floor around them? Which of these things are toys. Why is she resting on Martha’s lap.
OTHER AREAS OF INTEREST
Notice the field slave herding the cattle (in the upper left of the canvas) and the field slaves (behind Washington) returning from fishing on the Potomac River below. What could have been going on in Washington’s mind concerning slavery when (eight years earlier) in 1776 he read these words in the Declaration of Independence?
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
THE ARTIST TOUCH
My last questions are directed to the unique way in which the artists present history. In 1859 when the artists painted this scene, the United States was still torn with doubt about slavery seventy-five years after the declaration that these truths about equality were self-evident. In what way do Rossiter and Mignot make artistic choices that affect and flavor the way we perceive history? How does their use of color, atmosphere, light and shadow affect the mood of the painting? How does their theatric presentation of historic characters evoke national pride? What do you think or feel about retelling history to remind us of what is self-evident?