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Governor's Mansion fundraiser to show off historic painting

By Judy Hamilton

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Mansion Preservation Foundation will unveil a significant painting marking the Mountain State's history when the organization hosts a Sesquicentennial-themed fundraiser at the Governor's Mansion from 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 12.

Proceeds from the reception, which is open to the public, will benefit the nonprofit foundation's mission to maintain and to furnish the interiors of the first-floor public rooms of the mansion, adhering to aesthetic and historical standards established by the organization's committee.

The public rooms include the foyer, ballroom, formal dining room, drawing room, library, living room and sun porch. Throughout the year, these rooms host international and national dignitaries, legislators and the visiting public, including scores of school children and Scout troops.

First lady Shelley Moore started the nonpartisan 501(c)(3) foundation in 1986, during her husband Arch A. Moore Jr.'s third term as governor. She established the foundation to raise funds for the maintenance of the mansion's public areas after observing that the 1925 building's architectural integrity needed to be preserved in its original style.

The Governor's Mansion was designed by Charleston architect Walter F. Martens. The designer worked closely with Cass Gilbert, architect of the Capitol. The building is a Georgian-style structure featuring dual staircases. The arched entry portal and restored chandelier in the foyer are Georgian.

Elizabeth Chilton, president of the foundation, announced earlier in the week that during the reception, the foundation will reveal the painting "Harpers Ferry," by respected early American painter Francis Guy (1760-1820).

The 27- by 41-inch oil on canvas painting is on loan to the state of West Virginia for one year from Michael F. Meyer, owner of Michael Meyer Fine Art Inc., in Yonkers, N.Y. He will attend the foundation event.

"It's a very important historical painting. It was painted in 1808. There were very few landscape painters at that time. I thought the state curator should know of its existence. ... It's a major find," Meyer said.

Meyer "was familiar with my book 'Early Art and Artists in West Virginia' and contacted me to let me know about the existence of the piece and his ownership of it," said John A. Cuthbert, director of the West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, said in an interview last week. Cuthbert is a member of the Mansion Preservation Foundation.

"This painting is among the finest surviving early landscape views of Harpers Ferry produced by any artist active in America during the early Federal period," Cuthbert said.

Harpers Ferry is at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. At the time of the painting, it was a location of strategic importance and was known for its scenic beauty.

"Thomas Jefferson wrote that it was 'worth a trip across the Atlantic' to view this scene in his book 'Notes on Virginia,' which was published in France in 1784," Cuthbert said.

"Guy painted several views of Harpers Ferry and vicinity between about 1808 and 1820. The painting that will be exhibited at the Governor's Mansion is one of two recently discovered paintings of Harpers Ferry painted around 1808. The painting is not only one of the finest early representations of the town, but also one of the most significant in its iconography.

"Guy routinely began such works by literally tracing the appearance of his subject on a thin layer of gauze mounted in a window in a tent he pitched overlooking the scene he wished to depict. The resulting drawing was then transferred directly to canvas or wood. Though the elongated foreground and dramatic mountain backdrop in this painting appear somewhat exaggerated, it is likely that its rendering of the dimensions and placement of Harpers Ferry's early architecture is quite faithful," Cuthbert said.

"The buildings at left, situated on the banks of the Potomac River, are part of the United States Arsenal, which was established in the town in 1794 by George Washington. The large building at right was possibly a rifle factory. The strolling groups of fashionable people in the foreground, the low horizon, muted coloration and backlit glow are all common features of Guy's 'country manor' painting style. Note also the distant ferry crossing the Potomac, which gave the town its name," Cuthbert said.

West Virginians are encouraged to view the painting at the reception. For admission to the Mansion Preservation Foundation's fundraiser, contact Lorri White at 304-559-1549 or lorri.white@wvreti.org. A contribution of $150 per ticket is requested; $120 per attendee is tax-deductible.

Reach Judy E. Hamilton at judy.hamilton@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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