Historically Significant Painting Given to CMU

George Washington Hanging Wallpaper

October 16, 2017

George Washington paintingThe gift of an original painting of two figures historically significant to the American Revolution represents an important addition to the permanent collection of The Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art at Central Methodist University in Fayette.

The painting is currently on display during the gallery’s fall exhibition “Passion vs. Reality: Three for the Fall - Paintings by Gary Cadwallader, Ceramics by Geoff Graham and Masterpieces from the Permanent Collection.” The exhibition runs through Nov. 16.

Gallery hours are 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, closed on holidays. The gallery is located in Classic Hall on the CMU campus. For more information, call Gallery Curator Denise Haskamp at 660-248-6304 or by email.

Of coincidental interest is the fact that the community of Fayette was symbolically named after one of the figures in the painting and is the county seat of Howard, an important geographical connecting point propelling western expansion during the nineteenth century. The historic Boone’s Lick Trail, from St. Charles, connected with the Santa Fe Trail at Old Franklin in Howard County, and the latter connected with the major Western trails – the California and Oregon – on the western edge of the state.

The historically-themed painting is titled George Washington Hanging Wallpaper. An oil-on-canvas work, it measures approximately 25 inches square. The painting depicts George Washington at his Mount Vernon estate in Virginia standing on a scaffold hanging wallpaper handed up to him by the Marquis de Lafayette, who came from France during the American Revolution to serve as a military aide on Washington’s general staff.

Also in the painting are Martha Washington, who seems to surveying the paper-hanging project, and a black house servant who was applying the paste used to adhere the wallpaper in the house’s ballroom.

The possibly apocryphal story behind the painting is that new wallpaper was being hung in preparation of a reception honoring Lafayette for his service to the American cause for independence from Great Britain. And that the wallpaper had recently arrived from England (after the war), but a local wallpaper hanger had failed to show up, so Washington was doing the job himself with Lafayette’s help.

It was originally thought that the painting was the work of noted American artist Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), which would have dated its origin to sometime during the latter 18th century. However, an appraisal performed in 2011 rendered an opinion that the painting was done in 1936 by Frank J. Reilly A.N.A. (1906–1967), and placed a value on it of $2,500.

Reilly was an American painter, illustrator, muralist, and teacher. He is best known for his 28 years of instructing at the Art Students League of New York and establishing the Frank J. Reilly School of Art in the early 1960s, where he taught until his death in 1967.

“Whether the story is true or not, the painting adds to our country's long interest in George Washington,” says Denise Haskamp, curator of The Ashby-Hodge Gallery. “The city of Fayette is named after Lafayette, so that is of historical significance. The story is quite an intriguing one and seems to present the Washingtons and Lafayette in a humble moment, undertaking the labor that hired hands would have provided.  I believe the black man [in the painting] to be Billy Lee who was Washington's personal slave.”

Haskamp says The Ashby-Hodge Gallery acquired the painting from Laura (Bonnema) Marsh of the Chicago area upon a suggestion by Joan Stack, art curator of The State Historical Society of Missouri.

Since its founding in 1993, The Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art and has sponsored numerous exhibitions featuring artists and art history of the Boonslick. It’s first was Brush With History: Artists of the Boonslick –175 Years in 1996, featuring the works of famed Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879) and other noted Boonslick artists, past and present.

Bingham, who had lived for a time in Boonville, also had a home in historic Arrow Rock. The gallery collection includes several paintings by Bingham and works by many other artists significant to the Boonslick region.