It isn’t often that the opportunity arises to share in the preservation of a piece of American history. When the call went out to help preserve 45 important historical paintings, including several that feature foxhunting enthusiast George Washington, Museum members responded with enthusiasm.
The paintings are part of the John Ward Dunsmore Collection at the Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City. Dunsmore (1856-1945) is best known for his realistic and historically accurate paintings. One of his works, depicting George Washington elegantly sailing over a snake fence on his horse Blueskin, hard on the heels of running hounds and his long-serving Huntsman Billy Lee, appeared in Alexander Mackay-Smith’s 1968 work, The American Foxhound, 1747-1967.
New York’s Fraunces Tavern, originally built as an elegant residence in 1719, became a tavern in 1762. In 1783 General Washington delivered his farewell address to the officers of the Continental Army in the tavern’s Long Room. The room is preserved today as it would have looked then. The visitor can almost hear the emotional words of the General as he bade farewell to those who had, along with him, risked their lives and fortunes in the fight for independence.
The Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York purchased the building in 1904, had it restored to its Colonial-era appearance, and opened the Fraunces Tavern Museum to the public in 1907. That same year, John Ward Dunsmore donated 45 of his paintings, depicting historically relevant scenes from the Colonial Period and Revolution, to the Fraunces Tavern Museum. Coincidentally, 1907 was also the year that saw the founding of the American Masters of Foxhounds Associations.
After nearly 100 years of public display, the paintings were in dire need of thorough cleaning and conservation; the Fraunces Tavern Museum asked for help with this effort. Our Advisory Committee member LTC (Ret.) Robert Ferrer brought the matter to the attention of the Museum of Hounds & Hunting and the Advisory Committee offered to cover the cost of restoring three of these paintings. Each one features George Washington and relates to his foxhunting activities around Mount Vernon.
A commitment was made to raise the required $10,500 and MHH members quickly showed their support for this project. The meticulous cleaning and restoration work was begun and several of the 45 works in the Dunsmore Collection, including the three featuring George Washington in hunt-related scenes, have now been fully refurbished.
In January of 2006, Bob Ferrer, MFH (Caroline Hunt), the driving force behind this mission, and Museum Co-Chairman Marion Maggiolo visited the Fraunces Tavern Museum where they viewed the restored paintings. Given the happy confluence of centennial celebrations—both the Fraunces Tavern Museum and the Masters of Foxhounds Association—the refurbished paintings will be presented on January 28 & 29, 2007, to coincide with the Masters Centennial Ball in New York City. A brunch will be provided and transportation will be arranged from the Hyatt Regency Hotel to the Fraunces Tavern Museum. The Museum of Hounds & Hunting will also enjoy the opportunity to display these three paintings at our site in Morven Park.
Thanks to everyone who helped with this undertaking, a worthy extension of your Museum’s efforts to preserve the art and artifacts of mounted hunting in North America.
About the Fraunces Tavern Museum
Fraunces Tavern® Museum is a survivor of the early days of New York City. It was built in 1719 as an elegant residence for the merchant Stephan Delancey and his family. In 1762 the home was purchased by tavern-keeper Samuel Fraunces, who turned it into one of the most popular taverns of the day. Though it is best known as the site where Washington gave his farewell address to the officers of the Continental Army, in 1783, the tavern also played a significant role in pre-Revolutionary activities. After the war, when New York was the nation’s first capital, the tavern was rented to the new government to house the offices of the Departments of War, Treasury, and Foreign Affairs.
In 1904, the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York purchased the tavern and hired preservation architect William Mersereau to return the building to its colonial appearance. Fraunces Tavern® Museum opened to the public in 1907. Today, the museum complex includes four 19th century buildings in addition to the 18th century Fraunces Tavern building.
The John Ward Dunsmore Collection
The John Ward Dunsmore Collection at the Fraunces Tavern® Museum exemplifies seminal historic events such as Valley Forge, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the Surrender at Yorktown as well as people ranging from the common soldier to heroes such as Molly Pitcher, Lafayette, and George Washington; all essential to the American Revolution.
Dunsmore was a late 19th/early 20th-century painter best known for his realistic and historically accurate paintings. Dunsmore, the first Director of the Detroit Museum of Art and a member of the Sons of the Revolution, donated the majority of the collection directly to the Fraunces Tavern® Museum. A landmark exhibition of the 45 painting collection, the largest collection anywhere, is planned for the Museum’s Centennial in 2007. Afterwards, the paintings will be loaned out as well as used as important teaching tools for the over 6,000 school children that visit the Museum annually.