Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Print of the Washington Family

Object: Mezzotint
Accession #: 1984.0076

According to one historian, “a mezzotint is a distinctive tonal print made using a copper plate that is worked or ‘grounded’ using a semi-circular fine-toothed hand tool known as a ‘rocker’ so that the entire surface is roughened by tiny pits.”  The plate can then be covered with ink before being pressed against paper to produce a print.  According to the dictionary, a mezzotint is the method referred to as well as the print produced from such a plate. 

This mezzotint, one of two in Wilton's collection, was made from an engraving by John Sartain in 1840 which he based on a painting by Edward Savage completed in “Philadelphia in the year 1796."  Under the proper right corner of the print is: “Painted by Edward Savage," in the center “Published by Wm. Smith 3rd St. Philadelphia,” and under the proper left corner of the print: “Engraved by J. Sartain.” Underneath the print are the names of those depicted in painting, from the viewer’s left to right: George Washington Parke Custis, General George Washington, Eleanor Parke Custis, Martha Washington, and William Lee. The print depicts Washington as he sits at a table with his right arm resting on the shoulder of George Washington Parke Custis, who stands behind him. Across the table, on which is a map, sits Mrs. Washington pointing a folded fan to part of the map. Standing to her right is Eleanor Parke Custis. Standing behind Mrs. Washington is “Billy Lee, who was Washington’s body servant throughout the war” and “in the background is the noble aspect of the Potomac River as seen from Mt. Vernon.”   The mezzotint is lacking in a detailed view of the Potomac River, as is the case with the print from which it was produced.

Not much is known about the early career of Edward Savage. By 1785, he was painting in Boston and several years later worked in New York. He traveled to London in 1791 where he published copies of his engravings and portraits including one of George Washington. One historian explains that Savage, “was not a gifted artist, nor was he, so far as one may judge, an agreeable man” and that other artists “had nothing good to say of him or of his abilities.”  However, this same historian goes on to say that “he gave us an image that has been part of our national memory for two hundred years.” 

John Sartain was born in London in 1808 and began as an apprentice to John Swaine in 1823, from whom he learned heraldry and letter engraving.  In 1830, after marrying John Swaine’s daughter he moved to Philadelphia, Pennslvania.  From there, he produced engravings for Graham’s Magazine in 1841.  Eight years later, Sartain started publishing his own magazine, Sartain’s Union Magazine of Literature and Art.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Edgar Alan Poe were among some of its notable contributors. 

Savage had been commissioned by Harvard College to paint a portrait of Washington from life while the president was in New York and in the winter of 1789-90 he painted George and Martha Washington.  Savage’s grandson, “supposes that he [Savage] used these portraits of George and Martha Washington for the family group [painting].”  The engraving of the Washington family was done by Sartain from a lithograph of the work by Savage and not from the actual painting.  Details in Savage’s work are not included in Sartain’s engraving, which a journalist for the New York Times, writing in 1892 about the works by the two, states, “prove that Sartain must have worked without the aid of painting or engraving.” 

Original painting by Edward Savage
George Washington had become a national icon following the American Revolution.  After he was elected president, Washington’s face became “a recognized symbol of victory and liberty.”  According to the last will and testament of William Randolph IV, of Wilton, a "print of the Washington family" is listed under the inventory.  The Randolphs may have purchased a print containing Washington to show their admiration for the then deceased president who had once visited their home. 

Frank, Robin Jaffee. Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures. Yale
University Press. New Haven, 2000.
Richardson, Edgar P. American Paintings and Related Pictures in the Henry Francis Dupont
Museum. University Press of VA. Charlottsville, 1986.
“Washington and his Family”. New York Times Online Archives. December 30, 1892. 24
“Overview of Collection”. The Winterthur Library. 24 August 2012
“Mezzotint”. 24 August 2012.
“The Mezzotint”. Warnock Fine Arts. 24 August 2012.
“The Early Mezzotint” The National Gallery. 24 August 2012.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

To The Greatest Perfection

Object:  Flute
Accession #: 2005.56

Thomas Stanesby Jr. learned the trade of making musical instruments at his father's workshop. This is where Stanesby Jr.’s career took off and led to him becoming an independent maker of all types of woodwinds: recorders, flutes, oboes, and bassoons. Contra-bassoons were made by him for use in the London performance of Handel’s Water Music. Stanesby inherited a seal ring and his father’s tools in 1734 and continued to be active in the industry until his death in 1754. His trade card boasted:

Stanesby Jun. In the Temple Exchange Fleet Street, London. Makes to the greatest Perfection, all sorts of musical instruments. In Ivory or fine wood; Plain, after a very neat manner or curiously Adorn 'd with Gold, Silver, Ivory &c. Necessary to preserve them; approv'd and recommended by the best masters in Europe. Sold as above and no where else."

That his musical instruments were made “to the greatest perfection” is attested by this late eighteenth century Baroque flute done by Stanesby which can be found in the collection at Wilton. It is made of wood and has ivory rings along with metal keys. It is marked “Stanesby, Jr.” and was determined to be an authentic eighteenth-century flute by Weschler and Sons, Inc. of Washington, D.C. The Randolph family entertained guests in their parlor with music as well as in the lower passageway. The musicians might have played their instruments, one of which could have easily been a flute, on the landing of the stairs as the Randolph family and their guests danced the night away down below.

                                     La Barre and Other Musicians, c. 1710, AndrĂ© Bouys

The flute is the oldest woodwind instrument and dates back to the 9th century B.C. Most historians agree that the instrument originated in Central Asia. Baroque flutes of the 1600s were originally built in 3 sections, had seven tone holes plus a key hole for the little finger.  Its shape has changed based on its air column’s shape.  One historian explains that the “bore [air column] of the baroque flute was modified to a slightly tapered conical shape with the large radius at the embouchure hole [mouth piece] and the smaller radius at the bell end.”  During the 18th century, the flute experienced even more modifications. One historian describes instruments during this time as being “often highly ornamental, sophisticated craftsmanship being applied to the thickenings left in wood or ivory to strengthen the sockets.”  Improvement of the flute was being strived for during the eighteenth century because it was not producing tones correctly.

However, the weaknesses of the flute did not affect its popularity during the eighteenth century. As one historian stresses, “some of the forked sounds were dull and out of tune seems to have been philosophically accepted as a natural weakness of the instrument which it was the player’s duty to conceal by skilful manipulation.” Perhaps the flautists, who the Randolph’s might have had the pleasure of listening to, were able to do just that as the piercing notes of their music wafted out through the open windows into the night air.

If you have a musical appreciation like the Randolph’s be sure to check out the flute on your next visit.  And look out for more information about our free summer concerts series, Jammin' on the James, where you and the family can enjoy music, games, crafts, face-painting, and tours of the historic house. See our website or follow us on Facebook for details on all of our upcoming events.


Bate, Philip. The Flute: A Study of its History, Development and Construction. W.W. Norton &

            Company, Inc. New York, 1969.

Toff, Nancy. The Development of the Modern Flute. Taplinger Publishing Company. New York,
“Baroque Flutes: Thomas Stanesby, Jr”. Boaz Berney Historical Flutes.  18 July 2012.      
“Flute”. 18 July 2012. < >
“Stanesby Family. 18 July 2012. <>.
“Intonation”. . 31 July 2012.

Image Credit

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Vote For Spotswood!

Thank you to everyone who has been keeping up with WIlton's Found in the Collection blog.  One of the objects featured in a post last year is a portion of a waistcoat belonging to Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood.  This waistcoat has been nomination for the Virginia Association of Museums' Virginia's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program.

Virginia's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program raises public awareness about care of collections throughout Virginia, D.C., and beyond. Virginia's Top 10 is not a grant-giving program. It is designed to give museums, libraries, and archives an opportunity to raise media and public awareness about the ongoing & expensive care of collections, and collections care needs.Virginia's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts' nominees have the opportunity to promote their nomination during the public voting portion of this project. Once the public votes are tallied, our independent peer review panel will select the Top 10 winners. While public voting doesn't determine the Top 10, it will be taken into consideration by the panel - and those impressive voting numbers are great for museums to use when courting donors or applying for conservation grants!

Please take a minute to vote for the Spotswood waistcoat at Wilton.  Go to and click "Vote Now for the 2012 Nominees."  And remember, you can vote as often as you like, between now and August 29th.  Vote now!  Vote often!