Cider Making

Artist: William Sidney Mount (American, Setauket, New York 1807–1868 Setauket, New York)

Date: 1840–41

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 27 x 34 1/8 in. (68.6 x 86.7 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Purchase, Bequest of Charles Allen Munn, by exchange, 1966

Accession Number: 66.126


Though this scene convincingly captures a moment in rural life, its inspiration lay in the political maneuvering surrounding the hard-fought presidential election of 1840. The image of down-home simplicity embodied by the cider makers was evoked by the Whig candidate, William Henry Harrison, promoted as a common man who preferred a log cabin and hard cider to the supposed excesses of the Democratic White House of Martin Van Buren. The work was commissioned by the prominent New York businessman and Whig leader Charles Augustus Davis. Davis was the creator of the folksy "Jack Downing" character, whose musings broadened Whig appeal through attacks on the disastrous Jacksonian financial policies responsible for the Panic of 1837. Mount, a conservative Democrat who opposed the populist Jackson, punctuated his painting with details, such as the prominently dated cider barrel, possibly intended to allude to the larger political context. In 1841, a Whig journalist wove the references into an anecdote in the "New York American" ripe with political insinuations and double meanings. Probably with greater specificity than the artist intended, he likened each figure to a character or interest group in the election. It is likely that Mount's motives included both subtle political concerns and a commitment to the transcription of visual data gleaned directly from his rural surroundings. The cider mill immortalized here stood in Setauket, Long Island, until the early twentieth century.