When Peter Waddell first visited Washington, he was struck by the city’s massive neoclassical structures. Now that he lives here, however, he’s developed a speciality in more modest buildings, like Tudor House, the early-19th-century Georgetown residence originally owned by Thomas Peter and his wife Martha, George Washington’s granddaughter. “I’ll always love giant columns and masses of marble,” Waddell says, chuckling. “That’s because we didn’t have any of that when I was a kid.”
Still, after having been here a while, Waddell has become more interested in the social history of early, small-town Washington. That fondness was reflected first in his 1997 show of paintings about the Octagon, the 1800 house that now serves as a museum annex to the adjacent American Institute of Architects headquarters on New York Avenue NW. The painter’s views of the house, including fanciful renderings of some former residents, were exhibited in the building itself.
That show set the precedent for Waddell to become artist-in-residence at Tudor Place, a Georgetown mansion completed in 1816, and to execute the paintings in “Portrait of Tudor Place,” an exhibition that runs until Sept. 26 at the house museum (1605 32nd St. NW, 965-0400); then the canvases move to Anton Gallery (2108 R St. NW, 328-0828) from Sept. 28 to Oct. 16.
Unlike the Octagon, Waddell notes, Tudor House has been open to the public for a relatively short time—only since 1988. Since becoming an artist-in-residence, he’s discovered that many Washingtonians have never visited the place. “There’s a lot of competition here,” he says of D.C. “There’s a lot of great buildings.”
Both the Octagon and Tudor Place were designed by William Thornton, who also did the original plan for the Capitol. Because it was occupied by members of the Peter family until the 1980s, however, Tudor Place has more historical texture. “The extraordinary thing here is that they didn’t throw anything away,” marvels Waddell. “The Octagon is architecturally interesting, but there’s almost nothing left from the original owners.”
Waddell says he feels more deeply involved with Tudor Place than with his previous subjects. “I’ve actually been here every day,” he notes. “I’ve spent so much time here that the paintings are almost like meditations.”
Although Waddell is a realist, his canvases usually demonstrate an eye for the fantastic. “I was always one for the broad stroke,” he says. But close observation of Tudor Place has subtly altered his style. “With this exhibit, I’ve spent so much time with a tiny brush,” he muses. “I always vowed I wouldn’t become that sort of artist.”—Mark Jenkins