"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Friday, January 27, 2017

Yarrow Mamout

This 1822 portrait of Yarrow Mamout, "Old Yarrow," by James Alexander Simpson is on loan from Peabody Collection, DC Public Library, Georgetown Regional Branch, to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
"Yarrow Mamout’s remarkable story testifies to the contradictory attitudes toward slavery, the African diaspora, and Islam in the early years of the American Republic. When he was approximately sixteen, Yarrow was forcibly taken from his educated family in Guinea. He was bought by the Beall family in 1752, working first on a plantation near present-day Takoma Park, Maryland, and then in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. Gaining his freedom after forty-four years, Yarrow remained in Georgetown  living among the approximately four hundred freed slaves there  working at many different tasks: making brick and charcoal, loading ships, weaving baskets. With his earnings, Yarrow bought stock in the local bank and, in 1800, a log home (now demolished) on Dent Place, in the garden of which he would pray toward Mecca.

James Alexander Simpson, Georgetown University’s first art instructor, painted this portrait amid rumors that Yarrow was a centenarian, which had turned him into a local celebrity of sorts. Indeed, for this reason, Charles Willson Peale, portraitist of George Washington and other luminaries, had made a special two-day visit to Georgetown to paint the 'chearfull' Yarrow a few years earlier. Upon his death, Yarrow was remembered as a pious Muslim and for his industriousness and determination in the face of adversity. " -- National Portrait Gallery

Seventy-year-old Charles Wilson Peale painted Yarrow Mamout in 1819. Peale had heard that Yarrow was 140 years old. The portrait is in the Philadelphia Museum.


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