About This Artwork

William Sidney Mount
American, 1807–1868

Bar-room Scene, 1835

Oil on canvas
57.4 x 69.7 cm (22 5/8 x 27 7/16 in.)
Signed, lower left: "W. S. Mount/1835"

The William Owen Goodman and Erna Sawyer Goodman Collection, 1939.392

William Sidney Mount’s scenes of everyday life provide insight into the complex social and racial divisions of antebellum America. The central figure in this tavern is a homeless wanderer who literally dances along a line in the floorboards and, as a result, walks a symbolic line between class and race. The color of his skin unites him with the more prosperous men who urge on his drunken revelry, but his poverty makes him an outcast like the African American man in the shadows, who smiles and looks on but is not an integral part of the group.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

New York, National Academy of Design (May-?), Tenth Annual Exhibition, no. 141.

Art Institute of Chicago, The Friends of American Art, Loan Exhibition of American Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, January 8-28, 1914, no. 49, as The Breakdown.

Brooklyn Museum, Exhibition of Drawings and Paintings by William Sidney Mount: 1807-1868, January 23-March 8, 1942, no. 40, ill. as The Breakdown.

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, William Sidney Mount and His Circle, January 31-?, 1945, no. 11 as The Breakdown.

Long Island, New York, The Suffolk Museum at Stony Brook, The Mount Brothers (August 23-September 28, 1947, no. 67, p. 44, ill. p. 28 as The Breakdown.

Milwaukee Art Institute, 19th Century American Masters, February 20-March 28, 1948, no. 34 as The Breakdown.

Cincinnati Art Museum, Rediscoveries in American Painting, October 3-November 6, 1955, no. 63 and p. 14 as The Breakdown.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, American Narrative Painting, no. 24, ill. p. 62 as The Breakdown.

"William Sydney Mount: American Genre Painter" Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth February 5-May 4, 1999.

Publication History

“The Fine Arts,” The Knickerbocker, June 1835, pp. 550-556, no. 141, p. 554.

The American Cyclopedia, A Popular Dictionary of General Knowledge, Vol. XII (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1883), pp. 7-8.

Alfred Frankenstein, William Sidney Mount (Abrams, Inc., 1975).

Barbara T. Ross, American Drawings in the Art Museum, Princeton University Exhibition, October 3-November 28, 1976, p. 108, no. 109, (not included in exhibition history).

Art Institute of Chicago, Master Paintings in The Art Institute of Chicago (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown, 1988), p. 81, ill.

Marvin D. Schwartz, “The Art Institute’s New Wing,” Antiques and the Arts Weekly, November 4, 1988, pp. 1, 60-62, ill. p. 60.

Benjamin Nelson Pftingstag, Aspects of Form and Time in the Paintings of Willliam Sidney Mount (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1980), Ph.D. diss., pp. 92, 119-122; mentioned under an earlier title: The Breakdown.

Judith A. Barter et al, American Arts at The Art Institute of Chicago: From Colonial Times to World War I (Art Institute of Chicago, 1998).

Ownership History

Gouverneur Kemble, Cold Spring, N.Y., 1835. Ehrich Galleries, New York, by 1911; William Owen and Erna Sawyer Goodman, Chicago, 1911; given to the Art Institute, 1939.

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