Taking the Census

Francis William Edmonds American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 758

The United States Census of 1850 initiated the requirement that heads of households provide information about each of their dependents. The new regulation caused a good deal of confusion. Edmonds’s humorous image, which is the earliest known portrayal of the census-taking process, features a father’s painstaking efforts to recall his family statistics, while several of his children hide from sight. The small framed portrait of George Washington above the mantel evokes not only the genesis of the country’s political system but also the legendary admonition never to tell a lie. The carefully lit interior and wealth of detail in the composition were inspired, in part, by earlier Dutch genre scenes.

Taking the Census, Francis William Edmonds (American, Hudson, New York 1806–1863 Bronxville, New York), Oil on canvas, American

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