Newly found paint­ing shows Wash­ing­ton’s war­time tent

The Republican Herald - - NEWS - BY KRIS­TEN DE GROOT

PHILADEL­PHIA — Philip Mead was on­line late one night in May, look­ing for pos­si­ble ar­ti­facts from the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion, when a paint­ing up for auc­tion caught his eye and got his heart rac­ing.

The chief his­to­rian at the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion Mu­seum had spied an un­signed wa­ter­color from 1782. It was a panorama of an army en­camp­ment, and to his ex­pert eye seemed to fea­ture the only known war­time de­pic­tion of the tent Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton used as his com­mand cen­ter dur­ing the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War.

The tent is the mar­quee ex­hibit at the mu­seum, which opened in April. And, thanks to Mead’s sharp eye, the mu­seum now owns the paint­ing that will an­chor an ex­hi­bi­tion next year.

Mead said the dis­cov­ery seemed al­most “too good to be true.”

“I’ve had this level of ex­cite­ment only a hand­ful of times in my 30 years of look­ing for this stuff,” Mead said.

When Mead saw the paint­ing, he im­me­di­ately emailed the im­age to Scott Stephen­son, the mu­seum’s vice pres­i­dent of col­lec­tions, ex­hi­bi­tions and pro­gram­ming.

“My heart leapt into my throat when I re­al­ized what this paint­ing was,” Stephen­son said.

They had to quickly line up donors to bid on the piece, which was go­ing up for auc­tion just days af­ter they spot­ted it. They were con­cerned maybe they weren’t the only peo­ple to spot the rare work, and they weren’t 100 per­cent sure the paint­ing was ex­actly what they had hoped.

“Our motto is you must kiss ev­ery frog in case it is a prince,” Stephen­son said. In this case, it was a prince. With only one other bid­der, they landed the paint­ing eas­ily. Once in hand, the mu­seum’s cu­ra­to­rial team was able to con­clude the paint­ing shows the Con­ti­nen­tal Army’s fall en­camp­ment at Ver­planck’s Point, New York, and was cre­ated by Pierre L’En­fant, the French-born en­gi­neer best known for lay­ing out the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

Be­fore he cre­ated the blueprint for Wash­ing­ton, D.C., L’En­fant served in the Con­ti­nen­tal Army. He was wounded at the Siege of Sa­van­nah, taken pris­oner at the sur­ren­der of Charleston and upon his re­lease went back to serve Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton for the re­main­der of the war.

The paint­ing de­picts hun­dreds of mil­i­tary tents ar­rayed across a rolling Hud­son Val­ley land­scape. Perched on a hill­top ris­ing about the scene on the paint­ing’s left side is Wash­ing­ton’s field head­quar­ters, in­clud­ing the tell­tale tent.

Most art­work from the war was af­ter­ward, so the images didn’t nec­es­sar­ily de­pict ac­tual events, the his­to­ri­ans said.

“To have such a de­tailed de­pic­tion of the scene painted by an eye­wit­ness — and en­gi­neer, nonethe­less — from an age be­fore pho­tog­ra­phy is like hav­ing a Google ‘street view’ look at a Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War en­camp­ment,” Mead said.


Con­ser­va­tor Corine McHugh works Fri­day on a re­cently dis­cov­ered paint­ing of­fer­ing a glimpse into the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War in Philadel­phia.

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