William Sidney Mount (1807–1868)

The Trap Sprung, 1844

Oil on panel, 12 7/8 x 17 1/16 in. (32.7 x 43.3 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1992.52

William Sidney Mount, whose subjects were almost exclusively rural scenes and portraits, is considered America’s first major genre painter. His The Trap Sprung shows two boys—one wearing a torn, shabby jacket and the other a thick, velvet-trimmed coat—approaching a closed animal trap. The well-dressed boy carries a rabbit caught in another trap. Commissioned by the Philadelphia book publisher E. L. Carey, the painting was reproduced as an engraving in a popular periodical; it illustrated a short story about a country boy and a city boy searching for a pet rabbit for a disabled girl. Underlying that narrative, however, was a veiled message: Mount’s painting was created a few years after the Panic of 1837, when the conservative Whig Party, symbolized by the rabbit, blamed the opposing Democrats for the nation’s economic troubles in order to “trap” voters for their cause. The Trap Sprung was thus understood as an image of rural life with political resonance.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.