Pan in the Drawing Room


Do you remember the Case of the Missing Painting, where our curatorial detectives tracked down a work of art which had hung at Montpelier and then traveled to Washington with Dolley in the 1840s? The painting was on display in the Montpelier Visitor Center Grills Gallery in May 2008, and removed in October 2010 for conservation and cleaning.

The original painting “Pan, Youths & Nymphs” returned to the Montpelier Drawing Room in time to celebrate James Madison’s 260th birthday. The painting is by Dutch artist Gerrit Van Honthorst and dates to ca. 1630. It was among the pieces acquired by John Payne Todd in Europe while he served as secretary for the American legation, negotiating the Treaty of Ghent in 1814.

Over 160 years ago, “Pan, Youths & Nymphs” hung in the same location as you will see today in the Montpelier Drawing Room. This painting was one of sixteen paintings displayed in the Drawing Room that was noted on the “Oil Paintings at Montpellier” list.[1] This document includes the specific location as “right of the chimney breast.” The piece remained in the Drawing Room until approximately 1842-1843, and is identified on an undated list made by John Payne Todd: “In the Drawing Room.”[2]

In 1844, as Dolley Madison prepared to sell Montpelier to Henry Moncure, she noted items she wished to be sent to her in Washington. A letter from John Payne Todd on the subject refers to this painting as “the laughing picture in the DR,” likely in reference to the central laughing maiden depicted. [3]

After Dolley’s relocation to Washington, ”Pan, Youths & Nymphs” was displayed in her Lafayette Square house. An 1846 newspaper account describing her parlor noted that “over the fire-place….a very old painting representing a group of maidens surprised by Pan while playing in a grove. Pan it seems, has fallen in love with the handsomest one, while the rest are quite merry at the idea of such a creature as he being susceptible of the tender passion.”[4] “An Oil painting of Pan & some Nymphs” was also included on an 1846 financial document that listed items found in Dolley’s Lafayette Square house.

Following Dolley Madison’s death, the painting was acquired by James C. McGuire, who served as the administrator of Dolley’s estate and organized the auction of her personal belongings in Washington on March 1, 1851. In addition to this painting, other works of art from James and Dolley’s collection were acquired by McGuire.

Following McGuire’s death, his collection was auctioned in 1888. Lot 98 of his sale was identified as “Pan, and Figures 50 [inches] X 85 [inches].”[5] Joseph D. McGuire, James McGuire’s son, purchased the painting. It remained in Joseph’s collection until it was sold and owned by a succession of private collectors. The work soon lost its Madison association and spent most of the 20th century in the private collection of a Charlottesville family. In 2004, the painting was sold at auction to a private Dutch collector. Three years later, as part of the Presidential Detective Story, the painting was located as part of the Madison Drawing Room artwork research project. The painting’s Madison provenance was confirmed, and Montpelier acquired the piece in 2008; the acquisition was made possible by funds from the Dolley Madison Legacy Luncheon.

The reinstallation of this painting provides a unique opportunity to discuss the acquisition and conservation of Madison’s art collection and the central role of the Drawing Room. This painting, along with statuary and the architectural detailing of the room, reveals Madison’s appreciation of classical, historical, and artistic themes. Montpelier visitors during the Madisons’ time described the walls of the Drawing Room as “entirely covered” with paintings, some of which were “quite large.”[6] Several guests went so far as to compare James and Dolley’s Drawing Room to a museum.[7] With its sixteen oil paintings depicting a variety of subjects and a number of sculptural busts and figurines, the room was much like a museum, depicting cultural, educational, and philosophical ideals.


1. “Oil Paintings at Montpellier,” n.d, box 3, Papers of Notable Virginia Families, MS 2988, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Virginia.

2. John Payne Todd, “In the drawing room,” n.d. [before 1842 ?], box 4, folder [undated], Papers of Dolley Madison, MS 18940, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

3. John Payne Todd to [Dolley Payne Todd Madison], October 22, 1844, with additional notes by John Payne Todd, box 2, folder May–Dec. 1844, Papers of Dolley Madison, MS 18940, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

4. “Mrs. Madison,” Barre Gazette (Barre, Mass.), June 12, 1846, 1.

5. Catalogue of the Collection of Paintings, Statuary, Bronzes, &c. Belonging to the Estate of the Late James C. McGuire (Washington, D.C.: Thomas Dowling, 1888)

6. Ralph D. Gray, “A Tour of Virginia in 1827: Letters of Henry D. Gilpin to his Father,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (October 1968): 444-471.

7. Gaillard Hunt (editor) and Margaret Bayard Smith, Margaret Bayard Smith, The First Forty Years of Washington Society: Portrayed by the Family Letters of Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906).








Montpelier Staff