An Elegant and Public Welcome
The Drawing Room served as the primary public room of James and Dolley Madison’s fully completed Montpelier, exhibiting the most sophisticated architectural details on the first floor and defining the culmination of their public careers. Margaret Bayard Smith, a close friend, commented in 1828 that the room “had more the appearance of a museum of the arts than of a drawing room. It was a charming room, giving activity to the mind, by the historic and classic ideas that it awakened.”
The furnishings reflected the formal venue, and the Madisons carefully displayed a mixture of portraits (both paintings and statuary) featuring friends and contemporaries, as well as European works acquired by Dolley Madison’s son John Payne Todd during his time abroad. Visitor accounts describe sofas, French chairs, fancy or painted chairs, card tables, a piano, and two large pier mirrors flanking the entry doors. The room also showcased intellectual novelties: an electrical machine, medals sent to Madison following his retirement, as well as statuary modeled after ancient and classical works and set above the door pediments.
"This apartment had more the appearance of a museum of the arts than of a drawing room. It was a charming room, giving activity to the mind, by the historic and classic ideas that it awakened."
Margaret Bayard Smith, August 17, 1828