Archive for the ‘Washington, George’ Category


My friend Louise North sent me a note in regard to the last post on Titus Kaphar’s painting of George Washington, specifically the title of the painting “Absconded.” She reported: “Finally got a chance to look the word (absconded) up in my OED:

1. transitive——to hide away; to conceal (anything).
2. reflexive archaic——”Before Saturn did abscond himself from the beams of the Sun.”
3. intransitive——to hide oneself; to retire from the public view: generally used of persons in debt, or criminals eluding the law.

The first meaning makes perfect sense in the Washington portrait: the figure is absolutely silent and conceals his ownership of slaves. Yet their names hang from his mouth. Powerful image.”

I agree.

Here is another painting by Titus Kaphar, this time of Andrew Jackson with the lower part of his face similarly obscured by streamers representing his slaves. This is the man whom Donald Trump admires, who, he says, could have prevented the Civil War!! Jackson, by the way, died 16 years before that conflict.

posted May 12th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Jackson, Andrew,Kaphar, Titus,Washington, George

“Dismantling History” —Titus Kaphar

My friend and colleague Louise North recently commended to my attention an American artist named TITUS KAPHAR. Indeed, upon examination, I find his work fascinating as it frequently deals with history—myth and misremembered—often focusing on the dark sides of events and those we revere as heroes. His paintings are frequently three dimensional or sculptural in nature; there are often layers which peeled away reveal previously hidden or unacknowledged facts or qualities.

In an article in the Art21 magazine dated Dec 2, 2015 called “Dismantling History: An Interview with Titus Kaphar with
Lindsey Davis,” Kaphar says:

I’ve come to realize that all reproduction, all depiction is fiction – it’s simply a question of to what degree. As much as we try to speak to the facts of a historical incident, we often alter those facts, sometimes drastically, through the retelling itself.

Understanding this has given me the freedom to manipulate, and change historical images in a way that recharges them for me. Knowing that artists throughout time who have attempted to retell history have always embraced, whether consciously or unconsciously, a degree of fiction, in order to achieve the sentiment of the facts is liberating.

Kaphar credits his art history education at Yale with fostering his belief that “obvious oversights in the canon were regularly understated, suppressed or ignored.” He set out to challenge the viewer, to probe beneath the surface, to gain new insights into the character of his subject. Two paintings strike me as especially provocative since their subjects have figured in this blog.

We sometimes forget that George Washington, the father of our country and acknowledged as its greatest president, was an active slaveholder. When he died there were 317 slaves at Mount Vernon, more than half of whom were dower slaves from his wife’s estate. Kaphar’s image reminds the viewer of this. The lower half of Washington’s face is masked by streamers attached by (real) rusted nails imprinted with names of slaves and excerpts from ads placed for their recovery. The work’s title “Absconded,” in all likelihood refers to the slave whose name features prominently, one Oney Judge, who in fact did escape and fled to New England. In spite of Washington’s efforts, she was never recovered. The Washingtons could not understand why slaves who were not mistreated would want to be free. See posts about Oney here, here, here, and here.

Another slave who also absconded was Washington’s chef, Hercules. Kaphar’s dramatic representation in tar and oil on canvas obscures Hercules’ face; he’s just another slave forgotten by history. See blog posts on Hercules here and here. Compare what is thought to be a portrait of Hercules by Gilbert Stuart with the depiction by Titus Kaphar.

“In the absence of adequate facts, our hearts rifle through memories, foraging satisfactory fictions.”

Read the entire interview with Kaphar HERE.

posted May 5th, 2017 by Janet, comments (1), CATEGORIES: Art,Hercules,Kaphar, Titus,Staines, Ona "Oney" Judge,Washington, George

” you possess a guide more certain than any I can give”

When John Adams was elected to succeed George Washington as President, ABIGAIL ADAMS wrote to former First Lady MARTHA WASHINGTON before the inauguration in 1791 soliciting her advice on how best to to carry out the duties of her new position. She asked Martha for some rules to guide her. Martha wrote the following letter spelling out what she perceived as good practice.

Philadelphia. 20th February 1797My Dear Madam
your kind and affectionate letter of the 9th instant has been duly received.— For the favourable sentiments you have been pleased to express for me, and for the testimony it contains of the aprobation of my conduct in the station I am about to retire from, I pray you to accept my grateful acknowledgments—

It is very flattering for me, my dear Madam, to be asked for rules, by which I have acquired the good opinion, which you say is entertained of me.— With in your self, you possess a guide more certain than any I can give, to direct you:— I mean the good sence and judgment for which you are distinguished;—but more from a willingness to comply with your request, than from any conviction—of the necessity, I will concisely add—

That the practice with me, has been always to receive the first visits, and then to return them.— These have been repeated (when received) after an absence of considerable length from the seat of the government.—

It has been a custom for the ladies of the diplomatic corps, to be introduced in their first visits by the secretary of state;—and for strangers by those who are known to them and to me; after which the visits have been returned.— This has been the general etequette;—but familiar morning visits have been received and made without cerimoney.—

The President having resolved to accept no invitations, it followed of course that I never dined or supped out, except once with the vice President, once with each of the Governers of the state whare we have resided—and (very rarely) at the dancing assemblies.— In a few instances only—I have drank tea with some of the public characters—and with a particular friend or acquantance.—

with respect to the Trades people of this city, I find but little difference in them: and of domestics, we have none I would venture to recommend, except the steward; who is capable, sober, active and obliging; and for any thing I know, or believe to the contrary, is honest.—

The President feels very sensibly for the politeness of your expressions as they relate to him self; and unites most cordially and sincerely with me in wishing that you, and the President elect, may enjoy every honour happiness and ease which the station you are to fill, can afford— and with compliments to Miss smith [Nabby Adams Smith] in which Nelly Custis [Eleanor Parke Custis, granddaughter of Martha called Nelly] joins us

I am my dear Madam with great / esteem and affectionate regard your / your obedient
Martha Washington

Citation: Martha Washington to Abigail Adams, 20 February 1797,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 11, July 1795 – February 1797, ed. Margaret A. Hogan, C. James Taylor, Sara Martin, Neal E. Millikan, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, and Gregg L. Lint. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013, pp. 570–571.The portrait of Abigail Adams (circa 1800-1815) is at the National Gallery in Washington, DC. Martha Washington’s portrait is by Gilbert Stuart, 1796.

posted May 2nd, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, John,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“will you get . . . two Cloths Baskets”

MARTHA WASHINGTON was not pleased when her husband was elected president. After his service in the Revolutionary War she had hoped to live quietly with him at Mount Vernon. She did not go to his inauguration on April 30, 1789, but in mid-May she left for New York, the temporary capital of the new nation, with her two grandchildren and seven house servants (slaves). She organized the household and devoted herself to the duties she presumed were expected of her as the president’s wife.

Martha placed orders for assorted items from the mundane to the unusual as the letters below show. Clement Biddle, who had served as commissary general under Washington during the Revolutionary War, was a merchant in Philadelphia and had been appointed by President Washington to be the head of the United States Marshals.

July 1790
Mrs. Washingtons compliments to Colo Biddle – will be glad to know, if he had got the knives and fork, – and wine, if it is very good and what quantity she will be very glad to see the list of the things when he has collected them altogether she beggs to know if he has remembered the ginn and liquers the General desires to have them sent and that they may be of the best kind – M W begs he will let Mr Powel* know when the vessel goes that the Chariot and coach Harness may go round with the other things they will be packed up ready for to be put on board-

* Samuel and Ann Willing Powel were close friends of the Washingtons.

Sunday one o’clock

We are much in want of perfumes such as orrange flower water & for cooking

Will you be so good as to get for me the Beauties of Milton Thompson Young and Harvey [poems by John Milton, illustrated by the named]]
M Washington

We are much in want of mops and clamps for scouring Brushes – will you get 6 of each and two Cloths Baskets 1 larger than the other

Pickled walnuts
India Mangoes
Thompson’s Seasons [a collection of poems by James Thomson]
Guthries Geography
Art of Speaking
6 mops or sweeping brushes
6 Clamp scrubbing brushes
2 Cloths Baskets
Orange flower Water
perfumes for Cooking.

Martha Washington, “Letters to Colonel Clement Biddle, July 1790,” in Martha Washington, Item #450 and Item #451,(accessed April 27, 2017).The illustration is of the title page of a later edition of William Guthrie’s A New System of Modern Geography.

posted April 27th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Biddle, Clement,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

Items from Martha Washington’s wardrobe

Searching through information about MARTHA WASHINGTON I came across two items of clothing that reveal something of her as a woman. The slippers, in purple and yellow silk, are the ones she wore when she wed George Washington in 1759. They signify her status as a wealthy woman and reflect her youthful flair: Martha, the widow of Daniel Parke Custis, was just 27 years old.

Also shown is a simple brown silk satin gown, the only dress of Martha’s wardrobe that has survived intact. It is constructed of narrow brown satin-weave silk, likely of English manufacture.

The SLIPPERS are shown courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. The gown can be seen HERE. (accessed April 24, 2017).

posted April 24th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Fashion,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

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