"Pictures, all of interest, having some history attached to each" adorn the Montpelier Dining Room
A team of curators, facilities and restoration staff, and a fine art specialist worked late into the evening hours on September 17—Constitution Day—to install thirty-four of the thirty-seven prints and engravings listed on an 1836 document entitled “Engravings in the dining room.” This primary source is the only extant comprehensive list of the Madisons’ furnishings at Montpelier.
The installation marks the culmination of years of research into identifying the prints and engravings the Madisons owned and hung on the Dining Room walls. The Montpelier curatorial department partnered with many print and engraving experts, including Dr. Pamela Potter-Hennessey, who helped identify and acquire works as described on the Dining Room list and in visitor accounts and other documentary records.
The Madisons used the prints in their dining room for study and to spark memories and encourage conversation over meals. Documentary evidence confirms that the Madisons’ prints addressed contemporary political and social issues as well as historical events, travel scenes, allegories, abstract ideas, religion and philosophy. As such, David Rittenhouse and John Vaughan, president and librarian of the American Philosophical Society respectively, can be found “in conversation” on the west wall. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Louis XVIII are prominently featured over the fireplace mantel. A print of Napoleon Bonaparte, which Mary Cutts described as “a large Napoleon in his ermine robes,” is conspicuously located over the north door, viewing scenes from the American Revolution across the room.1
Visitors to Montpelier will now find the Dining Room populated with depictions of Madison’s contemporaries, friends, and political colleagues—a veritable who’s who of the early republic. The Dining Room now fits the description of so many visitors to Montpelier during the retirement era as a space “covered with numerous engravings,”2 the “pictures, all of interest, having some history attached to each.”3
1. Mary Estelle Elizabeth Cutts Memoir II [1849-1856], Cutts Family Collection of Papers of James and Dolley Madison, Library of Congress, Washington , DC.
2. George Shattuck, Diary, 1834-1842, George Cheyne Shattuck Diary, MS N-910, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.
3. Mary Estelle Elizabeth Cutts Memoir II [1849-1856], Cutts Family Collection of Papers of James and Dolley Madison, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
The collections management team measures the paper mock-ups in preparation for print installation.
Paper mock-ups are in place. The mock-ups were designed by student interns James Dunnigan, Aidan Price, and Sam Mercier from Lake Forest College (Lake Forest, IL) in partnership with the Grace Elizabeth Groner Foundation.
Prints waiting to be hung.
John Jeanes, Director of Facilities and Restoration, prepares to hang Thaddeus Kosciuszko's "Thomas Jefferson."
Dr. Pam Potter Hennessey, Bill Bichell, and Grant Quertermous place Gabriel Duval and William Madison on the south wall of the Dining Room.
The completed south wall of the Dining Room.