President’s portrait

Gilbert Stewart, George Washington
Gilbert Stuart, George Washington (The Athenaeum Portrait), 1796, oil on canvas, 48 x 37 inches. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; owned jointly with Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

From the label text at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC: American artist Gilbert Stuart was commissioned to paint this portrait after the success of his first portrait of Washington in 1795. Martha Washington convinced the president to sit again because, according to artist Rembrandt Peale, she “wished a Portrait for herself; he therefore consented on the express condition that when finished it should be hers.” Stuart, however, preferred this portrait to his earlier Washington; he purposely left it—and that of the first lady—unfinished so that he could use it as a model for the numerous copies that the first president’s admirers commissioned. After Stuart’s death, the two paintings were purchased for the Boston Athenaeum, which owned them for more than 150 years.

This image served as the basis for the engraving of Washington on the one-dollar bill. John Neal, an early-nineteenth-century writer and art critic, wrote: “Though a better likeness of him were shown to us, we should reject it; for, the only idea that we now have of George Washington, is associated with Stuart’s Washington.”

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Bonus quote (to remind us of what the United States is all about):

The American’s Creed

“I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed, a democracy in a republic, a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

“I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.”

William Tyler Page, written in 1917, accepted by the United States House of Representatives on April 3, 1918.

Related posts:
The gap between: “Unfinished” at the Met Breuer
Gallery 764: In the Artist’s Studio
Real artists make portraits?
The Portrait Tradition

Two Coats of Paint is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To use content beyond the scope of this license, permission is required.

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