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Catalog Number KSc032660
Collection NY Historical Society
Object Name Letter
Dates of Creation 1863/06/01
Scope & Content Washington D.C.
1 St June, 1863
Wm. S. Mount, N.A.
Dear Sir,
Yours of the 28th ult was relieved on Saturday and Maj. French informed me that he would to-day give me the dimensions of the staircase, and today he says it is the size of Lentz's picture for which the government paid from 20,000 to twenty five thousand dollars he don't know which, the contract was made by Meigs and the latest payments were made by himself French.
I have also just seen Mr. Peter Force, formerly major of this City and compiler of the American Archives and showed to him Washington's report. Mr. Force has a copy of the old edition. I asked him to read it and give me his opinion of it as a subject for the painter and informed him of my correspondence with you. Mr. Force has always thought Washington should be represented in his early life. Mr. Force wishes to see Washington in his hunting shirt. I reminded Mr. Force that there was a description of the dress in the report. Had you not better consult Mr. Everett and Jared Sparks: for I do not altogether understand that report. Also Dr. Phillips about the river-gods; the Abb‚ Barthelemy has something about them in the Voyages d'Anacharsis, if I recollect aright. The Member of Congress elect, Brooks, from the City of New York is, I have no doubt, a connoisseur he is the brother-in- laws of John Cranch, the artist.
You write of my choice of subject: I had not thought of another; nor do I know of any suitable to your style and charac
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ter or which is necessary to complete the series of paintings and sculptures illustrative of the life of Washington now in the Capitol. You are thinking of a painting for some Academy exhibition and to suit the views of a purchaser who estimates the amount of "work and labour done and performed", the price of paints and other materials. I found the subject & told you e=where to look and you found it on page 19 of your copy, page 10 of mine. None of your Red Sea with the Israelites crossed over and the Egyptians submerged, we want to see the Allegany river full of ice pouring down those stairs and bearing that raft with young Washington and Mr. Gist: no other creature in sight, no skulking Indian nor bird, no rain in the brambles. The event is more recent than those illustrated by the last four pictures put up in the Rotunda. Major French, the Commissioner of Public Buildings is a literary man and admirer of your pictures which, he informed me, he had at his house. I could not speak to him of you without naming a subject, and he immediately expressed his approbation of both the artist and subject. You will incur risk in the "choice of subject" as you call it. How can you get an appropriation through Congress? Washington's presidency has not illustrated his procession through New Jersey, the Inauguration in New York, a State reception Mr. Lean &c. None of these incidents, no matter how well represented, would produce the effect you could manage with the subject named by me. On his farm at Mt. Vernon with Nelly Custis. The scene of his death, Dr. Craik Better try Gen Jackson or Davy Crockett.
Though no physiogomist I am affected by an association of character with appearance and have always considered the likeness of Washington which was painted for Claypoole to be the best. You should of course be governed by the testimony of
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actual observers.
There is an account in Irving's life of the portraits. Simplicity, naturalness, unity. Ars est celare artem. Ars longa vita brevis est. I am sorry I have not a copy of Hippocrates or I would give you the Greek of the last saw.
Well here is some information you need. Lentz's painting is on the wall and the $25000 mentioned at the beginning of his letter, or the greater part of it, must have been paid in speise or its equivalent. Panel (The Capitol of the United States is not a coach). It is probably as large or larger than the side wall of the room in which you will be sitting with this letter. The Capitol is no longer the government bakery. There are three more staircases to be painted, for which Congress has made no appropriation and prohibited any expenditure after that $25000.
You will have to visit Pittsburg in mid-winter, ascend the Allegany and identify the place, observe the flora, such as were growing during the last century, particularly the evergreens. The fauna (written in Greek alphabet). But look over head. Let it be cloudy, sun obscured or not risen. Time given: till finished.
Your friend and
obedient servant,
John M Gardner