Although George Washington sat for the most prominent artists of his day, Gilbert Stuart’s images of the first president and hero of the American Revolution have been so widely reproduced that it is almost impossible for Americans to conceive of Washington in any other way. Less than a quarter-century after his death, the writer John Neal had already proclaimed, “The only idea we now have of George Washington is associated
with Stuart’s Washington.” Even today we see Stuart’s image of Washington on every one-dollar bill.
For Stuart, Washington’s features indicated a man of great passions. The full-length Lansdowne portrait reproduced here summarizes Washington’s role as leader and father of his country and is one of Stuart’s most impressive works.
It was painted in 1796 for William Petty, the first marquis of Lansdowne, a British admirer of Washington. The work is conceived in the grand European manner used to depict nobility: The president stands in the classical pose of an orator before a background of draperies, columns, and a glimpse of landscape. Yet the details are distinctly American.
Washington wears the black velvet suit he used for formal occasions. On the table, volumes of the Federalist and the Journal of Congress refer to the foundations of government and Washington’s role as head of state. The medallion emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes on the back of the chair is part of the Great Seal of the United States. When the portrait was displayed in New York City two years later, an advertisement noted that Stuart had painted Washington, “surrounded with allegorical elements of his public life in the service of his country, which are highly illustrative of the great and tremendous storms which have frequently prevailed. These storms have abated and the appearance of the rainbow is introduced in the background as a sign.”
Many anecdotes relate the difficulty Stuart had in breaking through Washington’s public manner. It took all of the painter’s considerable conversational talents to draw out the inner man. He was apparently successful, for Washington’s grandson noted
that the Lansdowne portrait was, “the best likeness of the chief in his latter days.”
September 27, 2011 PowerPoint Class 6 America’s Beginnings T Paine G Washington
Remember if you would like to have a “do over” of this class, simply review the PowerPoint and take the notes onto the worksheet. Answer the quiz questions and mail your work to me before our next class.
Have a good week! -Mrs. S
“Praise the Lord for His mercy endures forever.” 2 Chron. 2:20