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Valance fragment, "America Presenting at the Altar of Liberty..."

ca. 1785
Origin: England, used in Virginia
14" deep, 84" gathered into 56 1/2" linen tape. tape.
Plate-printed cotton with linen tape.
Gift of Anne Galt Kirby Black and Eugene C. Black
Acc. No. 1978-246,1
Valance fragment from a set of bed furniture, plate-printed in sepia (probably originally purple). The design shows George Washington with one booted foot raised on a mound, being guided by a female figure in classical dress representing Peace at his right (viewer's left). Washington is being crowned with a laurel wreath by a trumpeting winged figure representing Fame. The figure of Liberty sits on a flaming altar holding a pole with a liberty cap; she is tended by female figures of Minerva and Commerce, one kneeling and holding medallions of male heroes in profile. Isolated groupings of flags, a drum, and a horn fill in spaces between figural groupings. Valance is gathered to linen tape with evidence of nail holes where it was tacked to the top of a tall-post bed. Although originally made in one piece, it is now in 4 fragments. Valance is unlined and bound with woven linen braid.
Label:Bed Valance
England, used in Williamsburg, Virginia, ca. 1785
Copperplate-printed cotton
G1978-246, 1, gift of Mrs. Ann Galt Kirby Black

Although this valance is fragile, fragmentary, and badly faded from its original dark purple to brown, it is a rare survival of a bed hanging once used in Williamsburg by the family of Dr. John Minson Galt. The printed design shows the goddess "Victory" crowning George Washington. A female "America" presents medallions of heroes on the altar of liberty. After the Revolutionary War, British manufacturers lost little time in producing copperplates such as this one specifically for the new patriotic American market.

The valance matches a set of straight panel curtains intended to enclose the bed. The valance is gathered to a narrow tape that was nailed to the tester frame of the bed. Gathered valances were used in the eighteenth century and continued into the following century. George Hepplewhite called them "petticoat valances" in his 1788 The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide.
Provenance:Family history states that these curtains were sent to Doctor John Minson Galt, Surgeon General of Virginia forces during the Revolution, by French officers who had served in the American Army, in remembrance of Galt's hospitality. The English origin of the printed textile (as evidenced by the blue threads in the selvages) calls part of this history into question. It is clear, however, that this bed furniture was used in Williamsburg, Virginia, by the Galt family.
Mark(s):Three blue threads in selvages, indicating all cotton English goods for export, 1774-1811 (see Florence Montgomery, Printed Textiles, p. 111).
Inscription(s):Words inscribed in the printing: "America Presenting at the Altar of Liberty Medallions of her Illustrious Sons" and "Washington & Independence".