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Today, it is a rare household that does not have some type of framed image hanging on its wall, a collection of family photographs, or some ornamental three dimensional object on a table or shelf. Such decorative items are taken for granted as part of the home environment. This was not a truism in the eighteenth century, even among wealthy households. For purposes of this study, the Category ART was designed to include pictorial art, i.e., paintings, prints, and pictures; maps; and sculptural forms such as busts, plaques, and statuary.(1)


Because of loose period terminology, it is not always possible to distinguish between painting and prints. A prime example of this usage is found in a 1749 Maryland Gazette newspaper notice which advertised: “. . . will be sold by Public Vendue . . . A curious parcel of New pictures, in Gilt Frames, representing variety of Flowers, Beasts, Birds, &C painted in Oil Colours and drawn from Life.”(2) Also illustrating the difficulty is a list found in the Jones papers entitled “Memo of Pictures in Northumbd County . . . belonging to me—.” Included in the list are “family pictures” which were surely oil portraits as well as what were clearly prints by Hogarth and others.(3)

The reference in the Jones’ list to family pictures speaks to what was perhaps the most important form of colonial art--the portrait. Thomas Lee Shippen, though given to effusive description in his letters, nevertheless wrote a telling account of his visit to Stratford Hall.

What a delightful occupation did it afford me sitting on one of the sophas of the great Hall, to have the family resemblance in the portraits of all my dear mother's fore-fathers-her father & mother grandfather & grandmother and so upwards for four generation! Their pictures have been drawn by the most eminent English artists and in large gilt frames adorn one of the most spacious & beautiful Halls I have seen. There is something truly noble in my grandfather picture is his physiognomy that strikes you with emotion. A blend of goodness and greatness--a sweet yet penetrating age--a finely marked set of features, and a heavenly countenance--Such I have almost never seen. Do not think me extravagent--my feelings were certainly so when I dwelt with rapture on the pictures of Stratford. . . .(4)

The evoking of family feeling and generational reverence was certainly one of the intentions of colonial portraits. Another desire, much more understandable to the modern viewer, was the desire to capture the likeness of a loved one. Alexandria merchant John Carlyle, in 1766, exchanged portraits with his brother who remained in Scotland. Having not seen each other in many years, John Carlyle was anxious that his portrait provide a true image. He wrote to his brother:

. . . as to the Likeness I never thought it very like when it was first finished I believe you would have liked it better, but I thought he had flattered me & made him make it Seven years Older at Least, Ever since I had that long Illness in 1755 I have never Recoverd what you Remember Of the Spiritleness at the Eyes & You cannot have more pleasure in Yr Picture then I have in mine & hope you'l live long & Continue to have yr health & Look Like what yr picture now does. . . .(5)

Family portraits were sometimes bequeathed in wills. Virginian Edward Moseley recorded in his will that he left to his son “all my Family pictures.” An undated inventory of Moseley's estate records that among the furniture in the hall were “12 Family Pictures” and another two in the dining room.(6)

Portraits, though no doubt the most common, were not the only type of paintings found in Chesapeake homes. Struggling to make a living, artists sometimes offered other types of art work to the public. In 1773, an individual identifying himself as a portrait painter newly arrived in Williamsburg from England and Ireland, via New York, advertised that he had "brought with him . . . a small but very neat Collection of PAINTINGS." Among them were:

. . . a very good copy of Corregio's ST. JEROME, esteemed to be one of the best Pictures in Italy . . . Secondly, VENUS and CUPID, the only copy from an original Picture by Mr. West, whose rising Reputation has already done great Honour to America. Thirdly, a HOLY FAMILY. Fourthly, a Copy of Guido's JUPITER and EUROPA, from the Original in the Collection of a Gentleman who travelled through Italy with Lord Northampton. Fifthly, FLORA, a Companion to the above. Sixthly, a very fine FRUIT PIECE. The above Pictures are to be disposed of at the Prices to be fixed on each Picture, on Saturday the 13th Instant, with a Number of choice PRINTS.(7)

While it is unknown whether Mr. Pratt was able to sell any of his paintings, he might well have garnered a special commission or two, perhaps for an overmantel painting. Such paintings were considered fashionable additions in some Chesapeake elite homes. Marylander Charles Carroll of Carrollton, in 1771, wrote to England seeking information about such an item:

. . . I desired you to inform me what a good landscape painting would cost executed by an eminent painter in London. I intend it for a frame over my chimney piece. Should such a piece of painting come too dear, I shall fill up the vacancy with some cheaper ornament.(8)

While the response to his letter has not been found, it is clear from a later letter that he found the quoted price high. He wrote:

A landscape of ye size to fit the frame which forms part of my chimney would come, I imagine, to pretty near Mr Marlow's price, if drawn by an eminent hand. I shall get a painter of this town to fill up the vacancy left for a landscape with some rough drawing & conceit of his own, which will be more suitable to my room, than the more finished production of Mr. Marlow.(9)

Two of George Mason's neighbors apparently contemplated these fashionable additions to their homes. In 1757, George Washington ordered “A Neat Landskip 3 feet by 21Ĺ Inches--1 Inch Margin for a Chimy."(10) According to a tradesman's dunning letter, George William Fairfax of Belvoir, while shopping for household furnishing in London in 1764, also expressed his desire for such a painting. In explaining why he had not already presented the bill to Fairfax, the author of the letter wrote:

. . . shou'd have made it out soon after the Goods were ship'd & waited on you with it; but your mentioning you shou'd want a picture for over Chimney & that you wou'd call to make [a] choice of one, prevented me.(11)

While Fairfax did not purchase a painting from the complaining merchant, it is intriguing to speculate that he might have made such a purchase from another source and brought it back to Virginia to install at Belvoir.

In addition to paintings, decorative, educational, and satirical prints also were part of the furnishings of some households. The list of “pictures” in the Jones’ papers included four hunting prints, five prints by Hogarth, and individual prints listed by title, including the humorous “English Man in Paris,” “French Lady in London,” “Grown Ladies Taught to Dance,” and its matching print of gentlemen taught to dance.(12) Among the goods inventoried at the Glassford's Piscataway, Maryland store in 1769 were the following prints:

1 Sett Vauxhall Pieces
1 do Progress of a Rake
1 do Times of the day
1 Do cartoons of France
1 do Fellow Apprentices
1 do Ancient Ruins
12 Small Metizitinto Prints

There was apparently not a large market in the area. The 1771 store inventory is identical, except for having ten instead of twelve “Metizitinto” prints.(13)

Among Rural Elite Inventories (REI), 68.7% have some type of pictorial art. Of those households having such forms, not quite a quarter list "family" pictures. The average number of pictures is 20.1 with a median of 13. The subject matter of pictorial art, not cited as family pictures, covers a wide range of material. The natural world was represented by sea and landscapes and the world of man by a diverse group of topics ranging from depictions of famous people to the built environment of cities and towns to the satirical prints of Hogarth.

In the family inventories, four (80%) list some type of pictorial art; however, ownership was actually 100% as indicated by the bequest of a family portrait in MASON63's will. The average for inventory listings is 11.2 and the median is 11. Only MASON97, with “country pictures” and ELBCK65 with “four very small pictures in frames (The Seasons)” and 4 “Dutch” pictures, hint at subject matter.

Among the documented Mason belongings which survive are early 19th-century copies of 18th-century portraits of George Mason and his first wife Ann. An affidavit written by John Mason in 1842 recorded the inscriptions from the original paintings, noting that they were identified as “George Mason Son of Col. George Mason Aged 25 I Hesselius pinxt 1750” and "Ann Mason Wife of Col. George Mason Esqr. Daughter of Willm Eilbeck Mercnt of Charles County Maryland Aged 16 I Hesselius Pinxt," adding:

. . . The above descriptions were this day taken verbatim . . . from the back of the canvas of the original portraits . . . which originals, now in my possession, have been so defaced and mutilated by time & damps as that the features can no longer be traced with accuracy.(14)

A reference in George Mason's mother's will to a portrait of her daughter Mary, together with a surviving portrait and a miniature of George Mason V and a possible miniature of Thomson Mason of Hollin Hall suggest a strong family tradition for owning portraiture.(15)

Two other references also offer clues about pictorial art at Gunston Hall. The first is recorded among items sold at the sale of the Belvoir furnishings in 1773. It lists six pictures valued at 4É6 bought by George Mason.(16) The second item is a letter among the Kimball papers in the Gunston Hall Archives which raises the intriguing possibility of an overmantel painting at Gunston Hall. The excerpt reads:

Mrs. Lewis Skoggs of Berryville . . . told me several months ago that her father was Commissioner of Fisheries when she was a youngster, and that they spent much time on his boat in the Potomac. She often was brought to Gunston . . . and that she had a very clear recollection of there being an oil painting over one of the mantles on the river side of the house (the side they always entered from the river). She remembered it particularly because she had never seen a picture inset in the over mantle at that time and it impressed her indelibly. Mrs. Skoggs must be between seventy five or eighty years old, perhaps over eighty, but she is very active mentally. . . .(17)

Unfortunately, Mrs. Skoggs did not specify which room, the Little Parlor or the Palladian Room, in which she remembered the painting. Very little of the original fabric of the overmantel in the Palladian Room survives to provide evidence as to the possible inclusion of such a painting: however, in the Little Parlor evidence for framework for an inset item, either a painting or a mirror, remains.


Pictorial Art: 12, (3-5 Family, 6-9 prints, 1 overmantel)
Origin: Britain and America
Date: 1750-1788
Style: Determined by origin, date, and form.
Material: Oil on canvas, Oil on wood?, Ink on paper.



Maps of various locations were among the items offered or sale by regional merchants. Maps of Virginia and Maryland were among the goods inventoried in the Glassford store in Piscataway, Maryland in 1769. Also among merchandise offered at the store were “4 Setts World & Quarters (20 maps) collourd on Cloth & Rollers” valued at 6É per map.(18) Additional clues to how maps were sold are also found in an 1785 advertisement which offered charts of the Chesapeake bay, and maps of North America “on cloth and framed.”(19)

Sometimes, publishers offered detailed descriptions of their maps. In 1755, the printing office in Williamsburg advertised:

A NEW and correct MAP of the most inhabited Part of Virginia, containing also the whole Province of Maryland, Part of Pennsylvania, New-Jersey, and North-Carolina, surveyed in the Year 1751, by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, and now much corrected and enlarged from several later Observations; taken on the Spot, with the Waggon Roads from Williamsburg to Wills's Creek both thro' Fredericksburg and Alexandria, including the greatest Part of the Rivers Ohio, with River Monongahela, Yawyawgany, New-River, Green-Briar, &c. &c.(20)

Maps were sometimes also included in books. After the American Revolution, it was the Alexandria newspaper which carried a notice for book about Kentucky with a new map. The volume offered was “The Discovery, Settlement and present State of KENTUCKEY, containing an essay towards the Topography and Natural History of that Country, to which is prefixed a new and correct Map of that country, drawn from accurate Surveys.”(21)

As is evidenced in these notices, maps might be framed, backed by cloth and attached to wooden rollers for easy storage and display, or bound into books. As one advertisement described, they might even be placed “in Cases fitted up for the Pocket.”(22)

Maps were listed in only 27% of REI with an average of 3.2 and a median of 2 in household having the type (HHT). These numbers are undoubtedly low. Even though some maps were framed and displayed,(23) it is probable that many maps either rolled or folded and placed in drawers were overlooked. Also not counted as separate entries would have been maps bound into books. Although many inventories do not list books by titles, those that do often include examples of atlases and geographies, as well as travel accounts which were also likely to contain maps.(24)

Only ELBCK65 among the family inventories records maps. As with the larger group this number seems low. Given MASON63’s concern about acquiring land for her children and MASON97’s travels abroad, they would both seem to be likely individuals to own maps for practical if not decorative purposes. Taking into consideration George Mason’s involvement in land acquisition for himself and the Ohio Company, as well as his role in state government, trade, and the Revolutionary War effort, it seems extremely likely that he owned multiple examples of maps. This is area that will be rewarded with further study.


Maps: Multiple examples
Specialized Form / Requires Additional Research
Origin: Britain and America
Date: 1750-1788
Form: Some on rollers, some folded, some in books, a few framed
Subjects: Specialized Form / Requires Additional Research
Materials: Ink on paper



Of all subcategories of art, this is in some ways the most intriguing and also the one about which the least can be said with assurance. Sculptural art in the form of busts, bas relief plaques, ornamental figures, and even full-size statues was certainly a part of the furnishing of well to-do homes in Britain.(25) Such forms were also owned by some Americans.

George Washington wanted sculptural items for Mount Vernon. In 1759, he placed the following order, giving directions not only for the subject matter but also as to the size, which was determined by his indented placement for these objects. He wrote:

Directions for the Busts

4--one of Alexr the Great--another of Julius Cæsar—anr of Chs 12 Sweeden & a 4th of the King of Prussia.
N.B.--these are not to exceed 15 Inchs in hight nor 10 in width for brokn Pedimt.
2 other Busts of Prince Eugene & the Duke of Marlborh—somewht smallr. 2 Wild Beast—not to exceed 12 Inch in highth nor 18 in lenght. Sundry Small Ornaments for Chim[ne]y piece.(26)

In 1760 he received a shipment costing the substantial sum of £12.11.4 which contained:

A Groupe of Æneas carrying his Father out of Troy with 4 Statues viz - his Father Anchises, his wife, Creusa, himself and his son Ascanius, [neatly] finished and bronzed with Copper.
Two Groupes, with two Statues each of Bachus & Flora finisht neat, & bronzd w' Copper £2.2 each
Two Ornamented Vases with Faces & festoons of Grape & Vine Leaves &c finished Neat & bronzd w' Coppr The above for ye Chimney Piece -
Two Lyons after the Antique Lyon's in Italy finished neat & bronzd with Copper £1.5 each.(27)

The tradesman from whom the pieces were purchased sent directions as to how they were to be placed, stating that “this is ye best Ornaments I could possibly make for the Chimney Piece,” adding “of all the wild Beasts as coud be made there is none thought better than the Lyons.” His instructions for displaying the other figures stated that “the manner of placing them on ye Chimney piece shd be thus A Group of Flora - Vase - Æneas -Vase - Group of Bacchus.” He went on to add that:

There is no Busts of Alexander ye Great [none at all of Charles 12th of Sweeden] Jullius Casar, King of Prussia, Prince Eugene nor Duke of Marlborough of the Size desired; and to make models would be very Expensive - at least 4 Guineas each. - but I can make Busts exactly to the Size wrote for [15 Inches] also very good ones at the rate of 16É. Each of Homer, Virgil, Horace, Cicero, Plato, Aristottle, Seneca, Galens, Vestall, Virgin Faustina, Chaucer, Spencer, Johnson, Shakespear, Beaumont, Fletcher, Milton, Prior, Pope, Congreve, Swift, Addison, Dryden, Locke, Newton.(28)

Washington clearly was not alone in purchasing sculptural pieces. Similar perhaps to those he ordered were the "8 cesars heads of paris plaister" in WRDRPE60, "a shakespear in plaister of paris" in ADDSN75, and "2 plaister of paris bust [of] Homer and Shakespear" in LEE76.

It is interesting to speculate about the placement of such items. Some of Washington's figures were intended for use in the broken pediments of overdoors, windows or furniture.(29) In the other three examples cited above, the sculptural art in WRDRPE60 and ADDSN75 were listed in chambers with only the examples in LEE76 found in a public room. The figural groupings and vases sent to Washington were intended to ornament a mantelpiece but what of the busts? Illustrations of period interiors seen in English paintings and prints show sculptural figures and busts incorporated into both overdoor and overmantel settings. Busts are also shown displayed upon wall-mounted brackets.(30) It seems possible, even probable, that Washington indented to display the busts he ordered in similar ways.

Only 8.3% of REI (deleting WSHGTN99 and FLOOD76) have any type sculptural art listed. It may be that in some cases, figures were displayed on overdoors or windows and thus overlooked by inventory takers who failed to look up.

Among the family inventories, only MASON00 has objects which fall into this subcategory—5 medallions. There are also a few tantalizing clues at Gunston Hall. A loose block, perhaps from an overdoor or window retains a faint ghost mark which could have been left by the base of a bust.(31) There are so many places at Gunston Hall suitable for displaying small busts or other sculptural pieces that it is hard to believe that George Mason did not, like his neighbor Washington, take advantage of them. However, only future research offers the hope of an answer to this question.


Sculptural Art: Specialized Form / Requires Additional Research.

1. The tabulation of the statistics for Rural Elite Inventories (REI) was done on a basis of 48 inventories. FLOOD76 and WSHGTN99 were deleted since their ownership of objects in this category was so high as to completely skew the numbers. Clearly both men had a fondness and in Flood's case, one might even say a collector's passion, for works of art. In addition, Washington's collection was augmented by gifts made to him both while President and in the years after he retired. Neither household could be considered typical even among the Elite group.

2. Advertisements, Maryland Gazette, 17 May 1749.

3. Memo of Pictures . . . , [n.d. ca., 1787], Container 32, Papers of the Jones Family, Northumberland County, Virginia, 1749-1810, Roger Jones Family Papers, 1649-1896, MssD, Library of Congress, no. 7179 and 7179 v. (hereafter LC).

4. Thomas Lee Shippen to Dr. William Shippen, Jr., 30 December 1783, Thomas Lee Shippen Papers, MssD, LC.

5. John Carlyle to George Carlyle, 1 August 1766, John Carlyle Papers, Virginia Historical Society.

6. "Moseley Family," Virginia Historical Magazine, 5 (January 1898): 333. For discussions about colonial portraiture see: Miles, Ellen G., ed., The Portrait in Eighteenth-Century America (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 1993); Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser, ed., Ralph Early, The Face of the Young Republic (New Have: Yale University Press, 1991); Carrie Ribora and Paul Staity, eds., John Singleton Copley in America (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art: Distributed by H. N. Abrams, 1995); Richard H. Saunders and Ellen G. Miles, American Colonial Portraitsē1770-1776 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987).

7. Advertisement of Mr. Pratt, Virginia Gazette (Purdie & Dixon), 4 March 1773.

8. "A Lost Copy-Book of Charles Carroll of Carrollton," Maryland Historical Magazine, 32 (September 1957): 199.

9. "A Lost Copy-Book of Charles Carroll of Carrollton," MHM, 32 (September 1957): 217.

10. "Invoice of sundry Goods to be Shipd by Mr. Richd. Washington . . ." 15 April 1757, Series 5, Accounts and Financial Records of Mt. Vernon, Financial Papers 1750-96, George Washington Papers, MssD., LC. (Presidential Papers microfilm series no. 115 & 116.)

11. Robert Star[ke] to Colo: Fairfax, 17 [Mar.] 1764, Fairfax Family Papers, Gunston Hall Plantation Library and Archives.

12. "Memo of pictures . . ." [ca., 1787] Container 32, Jones Family, no. 7179 and 7179v.

13. Inventory . . . Piscataway . . . taken 23 Jan. 1769, Inventory 1769-1774, John Glassford & Company Records, 1753-1844, MssD., LC, no. 8; Inventory taken 1771, Piscataway Store, ibid., no. 66.

14. Affidavit written by John Mason, 1842, Gunston Hall Plantation Library & Archives.

15. Will of Ann Thomson Mason, Stafford County Deed Book O (Wills), 1762, fols. 433-39 lists a bequest to Cousin Francis Moncure "the picture of Mary Thomson Seldon deceds. now hanging in my hall and give it to my grandson Samuel Seldon when he comes of age." Miniature, probably of George Mason, Jr. (V), of Lexington in Gunston Hall Collection, 82.18, uncertain artist, American, ca. 1785, ivory in gold frame, gift of a direct descendant of George Mason, Jr. Illustration in Marguerite Dupont Lee, Virginia Ghosts, revised edition, (Berryville, VA: Virginia Book Company, 1966), front of page 3. The miniature illustrated on the front side of page 3 is probably an image of Thomson Mason of Hollin Hall; see also: Mason Family Genealogical Record, Chart 272, documents possession by late descendant, current location unknown of miniature of Thomson Mason of Hollin Hall.

16. George Mason, Sen. Dr. Account of sale Belvoir, 15 August 1773, Fairfax Family Papers, Mss1 F1615 b4, Virginia Historical Society.

17. Letter, Gen. Montague to Fiske Kimball, 30 November 1950, Gunston Hall Plantation Library and Archives.

18. Messrs Robt & Robt Bogles & Scott . . . to Mr. James Brown at Piscaty . . . [1769], Inventory 1769-1774, Glassford, no. 29v.

19. Advertisement of Stephen Clark, Md. Gaz. , 11 August 1785.

20. "Just Published," Va. Gaz., 11 April 1755.

21. "Just Received," Virginia Journal & Alexandria Advertiser, 2 June 1785.

22. Advertisement of James Revington, Md. Gaz., 23 July 1761.

23. See CAROLL73 and FLOOD76. Maps listed in parlors, passages, and dining rooms may also have been framed for display; see CHPMN61, CORBIN60, and LEE76.

24. See for example PEACHY51, CUSTIS82, HRRSN89, BCHNAN91, and HRRSN07. Margaret Pritchard, Curator of Maps and Prints at Colonial Williamsburg, in a conversation of July 1999, concurred that maps are a type of object which is likely to be overlooked by inventory takers.

25. For purposes of this study, ornamental china, whether in the form of vases or figures were categorized as Household Decoration ( HH Decor).

26. W.W.Abbot, ed., et. al., The Papers of George Washington: Colonial Series, Vol. 6, 6 September 1758-December 1760 (Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Press, 1988), 355.

27. Invoice of William Cheere, March 1760, Series 5, George Washington Papers.

28. Invoice from Wm. Cheere, March 1760, Series 5, George Washington Papers.

29. For a discussion of Washington's purchases for items to be placed in overdoorbroken pediments, see Gilbert T. Vincent, "Fine Arts: A Collection Fitting the Nation," in Wendell Garrett, ed., George Washington's Mount Vernon (New York: Monacelli Press, Inc., 1998), 169.

30. See for example, plates 130, 132, 138, 155, 183, 184, 188, 233, 251, and 264 in Charles Sumarez Smith, Eighteenth-Century Decoration Design and the Domestic Interior in England (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, 1993).

31. The questions was raised by Philips and Buchanan as to whether this small block, now set into the door pediment in the Palladian Room, might have originally served as a bracket, perhaps over the windows in the front Passage.

© Gunston Hall Plantation 2002