Eastman Johnson’s The Old Mount Vernon

Meet the Artists of Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture

A painting of a house.

Eastman Johnson, The Old Mount Vernon, 1857, oil on board, framed: 23 3/8 x 34 1/2 in., Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, Purchased with funds courtesy of an anonymous donor and the Mount Vernon Licensing Fund, 2009, Photo Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

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.