The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook bid bon voyage to William Sidney Mount’s painting, “Catching Rabbits” recently. The politically themed painting is on loan to the Dixon Gallery & Gardens in Memphis, Tenn., through Jan. 15 as part of a new exhibition titled Wild Spaces, Open Seasons: Hunting and Fishing in American Art, which celebrates artists’ captivation with hunting and fishing.
As we are bombarded with political messages in this historically significant presidential election, we can stop and examine the ironically parallel politics of Mount’s day depicted in his painting.
While the painting at first appears to be the triumphant illustration of two boys successfully trapping game, the underlying subject of “Catching Rabbits” is the contest between Democrats and Whigs in the 1840 presidential election. The boys in the painting represent the Whig Party “trapping” votes, while the rabbit signifies the Democratic Party, weakened by internal division and subjected to desertion by its membership. Mount’s imagery proved so apt that the Democrats adopted the concept of the trap for their campaign broadsides, which cautioned against being lured and caught by the Whigs.