George Washington in Portraits
At first, George Washington was a reluctant portrait-sitter. Over time, his growing patience toward the capturing of his likeness produced some of the most celebrated works of art in America. Below are portraits of Washington that were created from life by a diverse and talented group of artists.
Charles Willson Peale, American, (1741-1827)
1779Commissioned by The Supreme Executive Council for the State House in Pennsylvania to commemorate the victories of Trenton and Princeton
Peale painted this symbolic work to commemorate Washington's victories at Trenton and Princeton. He made a number of replicas, most of which are full-length, and feature Princeton in the background.
Rembrandt Peale (American, 1778 - 1860)
The son of portraitist Charles Willson Peale, Rembrandt Peale's natural talents had been developed by his father and honed from many hours of copying portraits in Charles Willson Peale's museum. Born on February 22, 1778, Rembrandt Peale shared his birthday with George Washington. His first encounter with George Washington took place on July of 1787.
Peale was determined to create a likeness of Washington that would transcend representational accuracy, to convey the heroic qualities that Washington produced in the minds of many Americans.
In 1823 Peale was inspired by many different sources, including the works of his father and the bust portrait by Jean-Antoine Houdon to create something quite different, an image of Washington that was as much icon as likeness. Peale painted Washington in bust pose, facing left and framed by the massive stone oval that gave rise to the title "Porthole" portrait. Beyond the subject's head and shoulders drifted the clouds of some republican Olympus.
Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755-1828 )
The Lansdowne portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, completed in 1796, shows Washington at age 64 renouncing a third term as U.S. President. The original 8' x 5' painting is displayed in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution. Replicas painted by Stuart are on display in the East Room of the White House, the Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Museum.
The Stuart portrait bought by the U.S. government was rescued from the White House during the War of 1812 just before British soldiers captured the mansion. First Lady Dolley Madison wrote about saving Washington's portrait and is often credited with the rescue.
James Reid Lambdin (American, 1807 - 1889)
This 1854 painting by James Lambdin copies the head from John Trumbull’s full-length lifetime portrait of George Washington. Trumbull painted the original portrait in 1790, when Washington was 58 years old. Though Washington was then in his first presidential term, Trumbull portrayed him in uniform, celebrating him as a Revolutionary War hero.
Lambdin presented this portrait to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in 1872 to furnish the Mansion, when the estate was nearly empty.