Painted to commemorate the 1824–1825 American tour of the Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834), this watercolor endures today as a remarkable document of a stencil-decorated New England interior. For many years it was believed to depict the interior of Moses Morse’s house in Loudon, New Hampshire. The confusion can perhaps be laid to the fact that the watercolor descended in the Morse family and includes a portrait of Morse’s wife, Sally, sewing by the fireplace. Morse was a local joiner and made the painting’s frame, with diagonal stringing that echoes the stringing along the edges of the desk portrayed in the watercolor. Recent research strongly suggests that this is not the Morse home, however, but a view of the tavern belonging to the artist’s father, John Leavitt. Mrs. Morse was the artist’s cousin, perhaps explaining her presence in the watercolor.
In this vivid scene, the viewer is able to look through three connecting rooms, each with a distinctive character created by the use of stencil and freehand painting. The placement of three figures—Lafayette looming large in the right foreground, Mrs. Morse seated by the fire, and an unidentified figure in the middle room—provides scale and perspective. The most elaborate space is the highly patterned front room; every surface has received some type of painted decoration, from the checkerboard floor to the wall divided into bordered panels. According to Nina Fletcher Little, the delicate, foliate border design and swag-and-tassel frieze above are related to the work of an unidentified itinerant stenciler who traveled through the coastal towns of New England; the bird-and-leafy-branch motif over the fireplace has not been found elsewhere.
Stacy C. Hollander, "Interior of John Leavitt's Tavern," in American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 385.