William Sidney Mount & Genre Paintings

After finishing the 1850 Census in good time yesterday, I was tasked with amassing a digital collection of William Sidney Mount paintings that my supervisor could use for an upcoming project. I went into today’s work feeling a little apprehensive, since I don’t consider myself well versed in art history (the only art history course I’ve ever taken was Roman Art & Archaeology in Spring 2008). I started off by reading up on William Sidney Mount and the Genre Art movement, and that foundation in itself gave me more confidence in moving forward. Hoping to find a single trove of Mount’s works, I visited a handful of websites and digital archives, but was rather disappointed in my findings. Finally, I tried using Artstor (the more artistic cousin of Jstor). Artstor has nearly 200 high resolution images associated with Mount, and it also provides options to create “Image Groups” in which users can place up to 100 images (per Image Group) for their own use and convenience. These Image Groups can be shared via URL or downloaded as JPEGS, PDFs, and Powerpoints, with the Artists/Title/Year/Etc. automatically included in the file. Here’s an example of all the information that automatically showed up in my Powerpoint:


Creator: William Sidney Mount, American, 1807 – 1868
Title: After Dinner
Work Type: Paintings
Period: 19th century
Date: 1834
Material: Oil on wood
Measurements: 27.6 x 27.8 cm (10 7/8 x 10 15/16 in.)
Description: Mount played the violin with passion. In After Dinner, a central violinist, who resembles the artist, lulls his listeners with his melody. The men’s full bellies and glasses of claret also account for the drowsy mood. They represent two social types. On the left, the man’s high hat and side-whiskers mark him as middle class; on the right, the man’s red cap and coarse pea-coat identify him as working class. Mount’s depiction draws upon cliches but avoids caricature. For him, music had the uncanny ability to reveal the essential quality of an individual. He wrote, “My violin has been the source of a great deal of amusement. It has enabled me to see a great deal of character.”

     I actually deleted about half of the information above for the sake of space! Anyway, Artstor seemed to be the most convenient way of doing things, so I created two image groups (one of Mount’s work and one of his contemporaries’ work), stocked them full of images (a little over 100 in total), and exported them as Powerpoint files. I tried sharing the URL with my supervisor, but for one reason or another she couldn’t access it, but the Powerpoint worked well.

Today was an interesting day for three reasons:

1) It was an opportunity to work with and learn about a genre of art that is outside of my normal  study and consideration. I feel pretty good about understanding 19th Century genre art now.

2) It was an opportunity to work in a database that I’d never used before. Artstor was so easy to use (although there’s always a learning curve), and I’m inspired to incorporate it into future research.

3) This morning, I read an email from my supervisor stating that she’d compared the names from the 1850 agricultural census that I’d transcribed with the list of black and mulatto men and women excerpted from the 1850 population census, finding that there was no land ownership by “black” or “mulatto” individuals in the Three Village area at that time. I had this in the back of my mind as I browsed through nearly two hundred of William Sidney Mount’s images. Mount was from Setauket, part of the Three Village area, and his paintings frequently depict individuals of color, so a new dimension was added to my interpretation of his sketches and paintings. Here is an image, which I first saw in person at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, NY, that is well known for its racial import:

Farmers Nooning

Farmers Nooning, by William Sidney Mount (1836)

We’ve also finally discovered some local access to the 1865 NYS Census, so that may be in my future, although it may have to be postponed until after the spring semester, which starts on 1/26/15.

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