The recent discovery of a 235-year-old, seven-foot panoramic painting offers an invaluable glimpse into the Revolutionary War. The sweeping watercolor painting of the fall 1782 Continental Army encampment at Verplancks Point, New York, contains the only known wartime depiction of General Washingtons headquarters tent, his command center throughout the war.
The previously unidentified painting recently appeared at auction without attribution to an artist or precise information about the event it depicts where it was spotted by curators from the Museum of the American Revolution
, who then purchased it. Washingtons original headquarters tent, the cornerstone of the Museums collection, is dramatically presented in the Museum in its own dedicated theater.
My heart leapt into my throat when I realized what this painting was, said Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, the Museums Vice President of Collections, Exhibitions and Programming. For it to appear just months after unveiling Washingtons original tent is an astonishing coincidence. This painting illustrates a key point about Washingtons leadership: Washington remained in the field with his army through eight years of conflict. His decision to live under canvas was a physical demonstration of his devotion to them and their shared cause.
Research by the Museums curatorial team led them to conclude that the 1782 watercolor, , which measures 84.25 inches by 8.75 inches, was painted by Pierre Charles LEnfant (1754-1825), a French-born American military engineer who served in the Revolutionary War and is best known for his 1791 design for the layout of Washington, D.C.
Museum curators arrived at the attribution to LEnfant by tracing the provenance of the watercolor to the same Maryland family who sheltered the elderly LEnfant before his death in 1825. Descendants later donated a large collection of LEnfants papers and a panoramic watercolor painting of West Point, New York to the Library of Congress in 1920. Comparison of the two panoramas (West Point and Verplancks Point) revealed details that place their date of completion to a narrow window of time and to the same artist.
The Library of Congress will loan the West Point painting to the Museum to display alongside the newly acquired view of Verplancks Point.