William Sidney Mount, The Power of Music, 1847
17.1 x 21.1 in.
William Sidney Mount (1807-1868) was an American painter from Setauket, Long Island. He studied at the National Academy of Design where he initially studied history painting, but he found success when he transitioned to genre scenes. One of his talents was to show both images of an American pastoral ideal as well as social commentary. He was committed to painting the realities of rural life. Mount also painted a number of portraits, in which he successfully portrays the character and feelings of his subjects. Two of his best known paintings are Bargaining for a Horse (1835) and Dance of the Haymakers (1845), which takes place in the same barn as the painting I have featured. The Power of Music is an effective exploration of the lives of these men. We see the three men inside the barn playing the fiddle and enjoying the music, while the African American laborer listens from outside. He has taken a break from his work to listen, for we can see his axe leaning against the barn door. We can see from his expression how much this man loves the music; he listens intently and he is truly moved. All four men are united by their love of music, but the worker is separated from the others by his social position. Mount expresses this distance quite literally with the barrier of the barn door, but we should also keep in mind that he may need to listen in secret, behind the protection of the door.