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In partnership with Lafayette and with more than 60 items on loan from the College, the newest museum at Mount Vernon features an inaugural exhibition focusing on the close “father-son” relationship between the Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington.

The exhibit, entitled A Son and his Adoptive Father: The Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington, will be on display at Mount Vernon’s new F.M. Kirby Foundation Gallery through Aug. 5, 2007 and will then travel to Lafayette, where it will be on view Sept. 6- Oct. 28, 2007 in the Williams Center for the Arts.

The exhibit’s appearance at Lafayette will be part of the College’s yearlong celebration of the life and legacy of the man for whom it is named, the Marquis de Lafayette, in observance of the 250th anniversary of the Marquis’ birth on Sept. 6, 1757.

  • A web site dedicated to the celebration and to the Marquis’ unique connection to the College provides information and updates

The College is the primary lender to the exhibit, with materials drawn from its extensive collections of manuscripts, prints, books, memorabilia, and works of art. Other contributors include Harvard College, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Life Guard Society of Mount Vernon, Society of the Cincinnati, and Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

“It has been a pleasure to be partners in this project with Mount Vernon,” says Diane Windham Shaw, special collections librarian and College archivist. “We are particularly grateful to some very special Lafayette alumni who hold both the College and Mount Vernon dear to their hearts – Stephen Hartwell ’36 and Frederick S. Benson III ’59, who first proposed the idea of a collaboration, and as members of the Kirby Family, whose F.M. Kirby Foundation funded the beautiful gallery in which the exhibit is shown to such perfection.”

The exhibit is organized by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in partnership with Lafayette College and made possible by the F.M. Kirby Foundation, the Florence Gould Foundation, The Founders, Washington Committee for Historic Mount Vernon, and the Embassy of France. Additional support for the exhibition at Lafayette College is provided by gifts from Lafayette Ambassador Bank and Jere G. Oren ’50. Oren’s gift was made in memory of his parents, Samuel and Sophie Oren.

“For this project, Mount Vernon could not have found a more perfect partner than Lafayette College, and the College staff’s collegiality has been exemplary,” says Linda Ayres, Mount Vernon associate director and director of collections. “Both Diane Shaw and Michiko Okaya, director of the Williams Center for the Arts gallery, gave freely of their time and extensive expertise, and Lafayette College is by far the largest lender to this traveling exhibition.”

Items from the College’s Marquis de Lafayette Collections include portraits, engravings, documents, a sword that belonged to Lafayette, china, glassware, medals, textiles, and sheet music. Many of these objects were produced as souvenirs during Lafayette’s 1824-1825 Farewell Tour of America. The paintings come from the Lafayette College Art Collection and include Thomas Sully’s portrait of Lafayette from the Farewell Tour and Jean-Baptiste Le Paon’s “Lafayette at Yorktown.”

“Central to the exhibition are the original letters that Lafayette wrote to Washington. More than 150 of these remarkable letters belong to the College, and we have loaned several of the most significant to Mount Vernon, including the 1790 letter that transmitted the key to the Bastille, the 1783 letter containing Lafayette’s proposal to Washington about freeing slaves, and letters written partially in code during the American Revolution,” says Shaw.

United in a common belief in individual liberty, Washington and Lafayette formed a lifelong friendship despite their differences in age and nationalities. From Lafayette’s initiation on the battlefield at Brandywine to his crucial role in bringing France into the war as an ally and the decisive victory at Yorktown, the two men’s mutual respect and admiration grew throughout their lives.

The exhibit focuses on four chronological periods: the Revolutionary War, the French Revolution, Lafayette’s American tour of 1824-1825, and the continuing legacy of Washington and Lafayette. Telling this fascinating story are more than 125 artifacts, including portraits of Washington and Lafayette, ceramics, silver, glass, weapons, jewelry, textiles, memorabilia, letters, and other documents.

Shaw authored the essay on the Lafayette-Washington friendship for the exhibit’s illustrated catalog. Mount Vernon curators Christine H. Messing and John B. Rudder, contributed section overviews and detailed entries for selected items. Along with the publication, there will be a variety of educational programs at each venue.

“The fact that we selected an exhibition about Washington and Lafayette to inaugurate our important, new exhibitions gallery reflects the importance of this topic to us and its potential to appeal to a broad audience,” says Ayres. “By featuring the strong friendship between these two champions of liberty, we wanted to remind those who see the exhibition and read the accompanying publication that the contributions of these two men were pivotal in establishing the young republic in the 18th century and also stress the long-standing alliance between the United States and France.”

A special event to mark the opening of the Lafayette-Washington show, hosted by representatives from the French Embassy and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, was held Nov. 9. The exhibition has also been featured in both the Washington Post and Antiques & Fine Art.

After Mount Vernon and Lafayette, the exhibition will move to the New-York Historical Society in New York City from Nov. 13, 2007-March 9, 2008.

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