Yarrow Mamout, 1822


Original oil painting in the Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch, District of Columbia Public Library. Digital copy of painting, courtesy, Georgetown Branch, District of Columbia Public Library.


For biographical details on the subject of this painting, see image 1029. This little known painting was done by the American artist James Alexander Simpson, a sometime teacher of painting and drawing at Georgetown College. D.C. The Simpson portrait appears to have been painted from life and is not a copy of the much better known 1819 portrait (done when Yarrow Mamout was about 83 years old) by the celebrated American painter, Charles Willson Peale (see image I029 on this website). The Simpson painting was done in 1822, about a year before the subject's death. In this portrait, Mamout seems to be wearing the same clothing, aside from the leather coat, as in the Peale painting. Moreover, he is holding a pipe which appears to be of West African origin or design; such pipes had short stems and a reed or wood tube was inserted into the hole at the pipe's stem in order to lengthen the stem. The most comprehensive account of Yarrow Mamout's life (and that of his descendants) is in James H. Johnston, From Slave Ship to Harvard: Yarrow Mamout and the history of an African American family (Fordham University Press, 2012); the Peale and Simpson portraits are discussed in detail on pp. 80-100. We thank Johnston for drawing our attention to the Simpson portrait and for sharing his research on Yarrow Mamout, and to Jerry McCoy, Archivist/Librarian, Georgetown Branch Library, for providing a digital copy of the painting.


Simpson, James Alexander

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