Thorough September 8, From Colony To Nation: 200 Years of American Painting at the New-York Historical Society
is displaying prized works from our collection, from portraits of the Gilded Age to landscapes of the Hudson River School. One such work is “The Truant Gamblers (Undutiful Boys),” by William Sydney Mount.
Commissioned by New York art collector Luman Reed (who reportedly paid $220 for the work), the painting depicts a group of young boys neglecting their farm duties in favor of gambling for pennies, and their imminent punishment from the approaching farmer. But the painting is not just a vignette of country life.
At the time, there was a larger cultural trend to celebrate rural life, nature, and childhood. As America transitioned from an agrarian society into an industrial one, it at once gave people the leisure time to enjoy rural life, and also the abilities to be nostalgic about childhood and to romanticize farm life. According to our curators, “For Reed, who had moved from the Hudson River town of Coxsackie to New York City in 1815, Mount’s painting of rural farmers would have served as a nostalgic reminder of his origins.” This painting is not just a vignette of rural life, but a nostalgic exercise.