Thursday, April 9, 2009

John and Abigail Adams - Reunited!

By: Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions
My colleague Paul D’Ambrosio recently posted a blog about an exhibition we installed in the Great Hall at Fenimore this spring. Two of the artifacts in this exhibition are especially interesting to me: a bronze bust of the second President of the United States, John Adams, and a painting of his wife, Abigail Adams. Although we’ve had these pieces in our collection since 1961 and 1955, respectively, they have never been on view together. It’s so nice to have them reunited once again!

The bust of John Adams was rendered by John Henry Isaac Browere when Adams was 90 years old. In the early 1800s, Browere aspired to create a portrait gallery of national heroes. Through a process of casting the faces of living people, Browere made life masks of famous men and women. Browere worked nearly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and captured the likenesses of the Revolutionary War generation just as age and time were taking their toll. John Adams played a leading role in persuading Congress to adopt the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776. He served two terms as George Washington’s Vice President before being elected to the highest office himself in 1797.

First Lady Abigail Adams was the wife of John Adams and the mother of the United States’ sixth President, John Quincy Adams. When the capital moved to Washington in 1800, Abigail became the first First Lady to preside over the President’s House, later called the White House. John Adams frequently sought Abigail’s advice on many governmental and political matters ranging from advocating for women’s rights to the abolition of slavery. Their letters have been most recently published in My Dearest Friend, Letters of Abigail and John Adams, edited by Margaret A. Hogan and C. James Taylor. This portrait by an unidentified artist reflects the stateliness and beauty of a First Lady so powerful that her political opponents called her “Mrs. President.”

Photos: John and Abigail Adams installed in American Treasures:

John Adams (1735-1826), Second President of the United States, Age 90. Cast November 22, 1825, in Quincy, Massachusetts by John Henry Isaac Browere (1790-1834). Bronze, Gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0201.1961.

Abigail Adams (1744-1818), ca. 1795. Artist Unidentified. Oil on canvas, Bequest from the Estate of Frances J. Eggleston, Oswego, New York, N0150.1955.

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