William Sidney Mount was born on November 26, 1807 on Long Island. He lived much of his life in bucolic Stony Brook, which had a great influence on his subject matter and artistic style. He first apprenticed as a sign painter for his brother Henry S. Mount. Limited by the artistic possibilities of sign painting, he enrolled and took classes at the newly opened National Academy of Design, in 1826. For a short time, Mount lived and worked in New York, during which he painted many portraits, and some historical scenes. However, after a move back to the countryside, he sought to document the daily life of the common man, through naturalistic narrative scenes. His first Genre painting- Rustic Dance (1930) – was an immediate success, and the paintings that followed established him as one of America’s greatest genre painters.
Mount is known for his idyllic evocation of the pleasures of country life. Many of his paintings show scenes of countrymen farming, fiddling and dancing, or just conversing. He also used his paintings to explore America’s social and political issues, with references to the temperance movement, the large population shift from the country to the city, and the 1852 presidential elections. He was also one of the first American painters to grant African-Americans a prominent, and non-stereotypical, place in his canvases.
Mount’s paintings were bought and commissioned by urban and country dwellers alike, an interesting illustration of the American sentiment at the time. Those who had found new wealth and success in the city took a fondness to Mount’s work, as the reminded them of their bucolic roots, yet also of the tribulations they escaped in their move to the city. His paintings were also appreciated by those still attached to the farm as way of life. For them, the canvases evoked nostalgia for simpler times. Many of Mount’s paintings were engraved and lithographed by Goupil and others in Europe, allowing for increased distribution and popularity.