An Artist Visits the White House Past:
The Paintings of Peter Waddell
Perhaps the most legendary object in the White House past, apart from the Lincoln bed and Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington, was removed a century ago and later destroyed. It was the “Tiffany screen” of colored glass that stood in the Entrance Hall a mere nineteen years, from 1883 until 1902. This popular expression of the Aesthetic taste in design was commissioned by President Chester A. Arthur from Louis Comfort Tiffany, the thirty-four year old artist then very current in New York circles. It was a foremost symbol of Victorian taste.
The White House Historical Association announces the opening on March 23 of a new and unique exhibit, An Artist Visits the White House Past: The Paintings of Peter Waddell, at the White House Visitor Center, 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. The exhibit is the first event of a year-long celebration of the association’s 50th anniversary and will be on display through November 28, 2011.
Although recognized around the world, the White House interiors bear little resemblance to their many 19th century incarnations. The president’s rooms were rarely documented and are largely unknown today. An Artist Visits the White House Past presents fourteen pictures commissioned by the White House Historical Association and six years in the making, depicting the President’s House from construction in 1792 to Theodore Roosevelt’s major renovation in 1902. They show the extraordinary and constantly changing character of the rooms during the 19th century and the changes to the exterior of the house outbuildings and grounds. Short of actually reconstructing the rooms, paintings offer a way to present an authentic visual recreation of the past.
“To make the paintings feel real everything is painted with the greatest detail possible—from the landscape outside the windows and the textiles hanging on those windows to the minutest details of women’s dress and jewelry. The months spent researching and painting all these details gives the paintings some of the surprise of actual interiors,” said artist Peter Waddell.
Rather than attempting to capture great events, Waddell decided to take odd moments in presidential life at the White House. You will see Dolley Madison entertaining in her drawing room; the second President Adams taking a dangerous swim; a social worker’s visit with a relaxed Abraham Lincoln in his office; a great cheese placed in the center of Andrew Jackson’s East Room; Theodore Roosevelt’s son and pets in the now-vanished conservatory, and other interludes, not least one bright and lively representation of the Entrance Hall showing the Tiffany glass screen, gone now for over a hundred years.
”Peter Waddell has brought to this project his meticulous skills at rendering architecture, textiles, furniture and ceramics,” said Neil W. Horstman, president of the White House Historical Association. He adds,
“Combined with his ability to evoke a compelling story, we can re-imagine the historic White House as we have not known before.”
Peter Waddell is best known for his paintings of architecture and American history. His work includes collaborative projects with Mount Vernon, the U.S. Capitol, The Octagon, Tudor Place and the Museum of the American Architectural Foundation. He began his professional career as a school teacher in his native New Zealand before devoting himself to painting full time. He emigrated to the United States in 1994 and became a U.S. citizen in 2003.
An Artist Visits the White House Past: The Paintings of Peter Waddell was organized by the White House Historical Association and the Office of the Curator, the White House in cooperation with the National Park Service. The White House Visitor Center 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. For information please call 202.208.1631.
The White House Historical Association, established in 1961, is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to enhance the understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the White House. All proceeds from the association’s trusts, publications and other items are used to fund acquisitions of historic furnishings and artwork for the permanent collection, to assist in the preservation of public rooms, and further its educational mission.
From the beginning Jefferson had thought the President’s House too grand, so when it became his home he cut it down to size in use. This room, a formal levee or reception room under Adams, Jefferson converted into his office. In re-creating it, the artist has selected from among Jefferson’s actual furnishings. The president has left the polished floors bare and has scattered his interests over the room—maps, experimental potted plants in the windowsills, a surveyor’s telescopic theodolite, and of course, books.