About this Artwork
Humboldt visited Mount Vernon during his trip to Washington, D.C., in 1804. There he confronted the conundrum at the core of American democracy—the nation’s admiration for George Washington as a revolutionary war hero and first president, and its adherence to the perpetuation of slavery. Johnson’s painting, made in 1857, grapples with the same issues. Instead of presenting the portico of the mansion facing the Potomac River, the artist shows the slave quarters attached to the rear of the house. Humboldt never gave up hope that the United States would abolish slavery and make the benefits of American democracy available to all who lived there.