Purchase Story

Mount Vernon's Blue Room Reopens

Here is the Blue Room in 2017.

The Blue Room in the Mount Vernon mansion reopened on October 7 after a seven-month restoration. Guided by new research and investigation, this bedchamber’s transformation includes reproduction French wallpaper, cream-painted woodwork, and a bedstead draped in blue-printed cotton.

As the first room at the head of the stairs on the second floor, the Blue Room introduces visitors to the richly furnished interiors experienced by guests of George and Martha Washington. Its architecture and furnishings represent more than 40 years of personal and cultural change experienced by the Washingtons, and the furnishings in particular highlight Martha Washington’s influence.

“The Blue Room provides us with a vibrant new look at the Washingtons,” said Susan P. Schoelwer, Mount Vernon’s Robert H. Smith Senior Curator, in a press release. “It speaks to George Washington’s fascination with the technological advances of the day and brings to the forefront Mrs. Washington’s importance in the development of Mount Vernon through the furnishings that she influenced. The ongoing research of the Historic Preservation and Collections staff shows that we still have so much to learn about the house and its inhabitants.”

In the 18th century, rooms were often named after the color of their textiles. “Blue Rooms” figured prominently in upper-class homes on both sides of the Atlantic. The Mount Vernon room was mentioned by this name in a 1796 memo from George Washington’s farm manager and in the Washingtons’ highly descriptive probate inventories from 1800 and 1802.

This printed photograph, published by Truman Ward Ingersoll, shows the interior view of the Blue Room taken from the doorway toward the fireplace along the north wall, circa 1898. The curators at Mount Vernon have disproved Lafayette’s stay in the room and have accordingly attributed an alternate room.

Mount Vernon’s experts have restored the room’s existing architecture, finishes on the woodwork and walls, and the furnishings with the goal of giving Mount Vernon’s visitors a complete view of how the interior looked in Washington’s day.

Research and investigation by Mount Vernon’s architecture team uncovered the story of the room’s evolution from 1734 to today. Beginning as a garret room with sloping ceilings, the space was expanded in 1758 to the full-height room it is today. Within the north wall, the team identified a now-closed doorway, which led to a porch on the roof of an addition to the mansion that stood from 1758 to 1776.

Further discoveries helped restore the fireplace to its 1799 appearance. The fireplace mantel had been removed from the Blue Room in the early 1980s, when it was suspected to be a 19th-century addition. Paint analysis confirmed that the mantel was the one originally installed in 1776. The team also found physical and documentary evidence that Washington had upgraded to a more efficient Rumford fireplace after his presidency. This previously missing architectural feature was rebuilt.

This black-and-white photograph was taken in 1947 by Samuel V. Chamberlain and shows the bed in the northwest corner of the room.

This photo shows the Blue Room in 1959.

Here is how the Blue Room looked in 1982 after the completion of the last official restoration of the space.

New paint analysis revealed that the woodwork in the room was cream colored in the 1790s, rather than the blue seen from the 1980s to early 2017. Further research indicated that wallpaper adorned the walls during the 1790s, complementing the room’s blue textiles. A reproduction wallpaper replicates a floral pattern from the premier French firm Jacquemart et Bénard. It is similar to what the Washingtons and other wealthy Americans purchased in the period, and it was hung using traditional methods.

Although none of the room’s original furnishings have survived, Mount Vernon’s curatorial team carefully combed the Washingtons’ purchase records and probate inventories to understand how the furnishings for the Blue Room would have appeared in 1799. The focal point of the room is a four-post bedstead draped in a cotton fabric printed in indigo blue with lifelike pairs of ducks and roosters amid swags of blossoms and fruit.  Mount Vernon was fortunate to acquire six English period mahogany chairs to represent the six listed on the probate inventory.

For a limited time, visitors will have the chance to see in the room a rare 18th-century print with a Washington family history, newly restored and on loan from the Mary Washington House in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Nymphs Bathing, a Classically inspired landscape scene, is a remarkable example of early color-printing technologies. Washington hung a color print of Nymphs Bathing in the Blue Room in 1797 along with three additional prints he had acquired in Philadelphia. Reproductions of the landscape prints owned by the Washingtons will also be on view.

Originally published in the November 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest

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