William Sidney Mount
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
William Sidney Mount was born in Setauket, Long Island, and also died there, but the center of home life for him and his family was the Hawkins farm (now the Hawkins-Mount Homestead) in nearby Stony Brook, which had been in his mother’s family for generations. The property of ninety-some acres provided limitless sources of inspiration for his art: bucolic countryside, rustic outbuildings, a variety of farm animals, and hearty neighbors willing to pose.
Among Mount’s favorite subjects to portray were farmers and country gentlemen — to him the backbone of democracy. His family’s comfortable circumstances, and the early commercial success of his paintings, allowed him the freedom to paint when he liked and gave him an affectionate, and somewhat rose-colored, view of country life.
Mount participated in the life of his community, but his unmarried status probably prevented him from being fully integrated into it. His diaries are full of accounts of boating trips, attending socials and musical events, and participating in local spiritualist meetings. After his mother’s dearth in 1841, he inherited a partial ownership in the family homestead, along with his other siblings. But he never fully settled in there, moving in and out, often after disagreements with members of his extended family who also lived in the house.
Before William Sidney Mount, few American artists had looked to the lives of ordinary folk for inspiration, for only figures out of history, myth, literature, or the Bible were considered worthy of representation. Mount’s works depicting country people were enormously popular, and laid the foundation for a school of American genre painting whose effects are still felt.
Text sourced from Long Island Museum.