William Sidney Mount (1807-1868)
This painting, California News, by William Mount includes a self portrait. The artist has portrayed himself in the right foreground with a clay pipe in his hand. This scene depicts Mount and other tavern patrons checking the newspapers for news of the California gold fields.
Mount grew up on a farm on Long Island. During a time when other artists preferred to emulate the European academic tradition of painting historical, religious, or literary scenes, Mount chose rather to depict rural American subjects in a realistic style. He became apprenticed to his older brother, who was already an artist and who had a sign-painting shop in New York City, after their father died when William was only 7.
Mount was once offered the opportunity to study art in Europe, but declined "for fear I might be induced by the splendor of European art to tarry too long, and thus lose my nationality. We have nature, it speaks to every one and what efforts I have made in art have been appreciated by my countrymen."
William Mount was one of the first American artists to portray African Americans in his paintings "with dignity although he opposed abolition of slavery."
He was also an inventor and an accomplished musician. He invented a steamboat paddle wheel, a two-hulled sailboat, a painting studio on wheels and a hollow back violin named the "Cradle of Harmony." He was also admired for his skill as a country fiddler, and was a composer and collector of songs as well, publishing several songbooks.
William Mount biographical info from askart.com.
Information on the Cradle of Harmony violin at HistoryWired.