The Tough Story–Scene in a Country Tavern

William Sidney Mount

(American; b. Setauket, N.Y., 1807–d. Setauket, N.Y., 1868)


The Tough Story–Scene in a Country Tavern[1]



Oil on panel

16 ¾ x 22 in. (42.6 x 55.9 cm)

Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund

Accession Number: 


With the rise of Jacksonian democracy in the 1820s and 1830s, painters increasingly turned their attention to the portrayal of ordinary citizens in indigenous surroundings. These images were often set in taverns, inns, post offices, and railway stations—important locations for social interaction and the exchange of ideas for middle-class white men.

A native of Long Island, New York, Mount made his name painting engaging pictures of his local scene. This composition depicts three men of diverse backgrounds gathered around a wood stove in a rustic tavern. The pyramidal structure of Mount’s composition—like that of Richard Caton Woodville’s Waiting for the Stage or John George Brown’s The Longshoremen’s Noon—leaves an empty space in the center foreground that draws the viewer into the conversation.