Painting, Portrait of George Washington (1732-1799)

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  • Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828)
  • America, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
  • 1795-1796
  • Oil on canvas
  • Bequest of of Mrs. Edward S. Harkness
  • 1950-337

Gilbert Stuart's multiple, bust-length likenesses of George Washington showing the proper right side of the face, eyes front, are examples of the artist's "Vaughan type" Washington portrait, based on the artist's original version of the composition painted in Philadelphia in 1795 for the American-born London merchant Samuel Vaughan. That premiere Vaughan-type caused a sensation when it was revealed to the public, and immediately Stuart was besieged with requests for copies. Colonial Williamsburg's example is one of notable quality. It was commissioned directly from Stuart by General Henry ("Light Horse Harry") Lee (1756-1818), an intimate of Washington's and one of the commander-in-chief's most brilliant, trusted, and highly-regarded officers during the Revolutionary War. The sittings for the original of the portrait had been a strain on Washington, for he despised posing, and he described his mood on the occasion as "grave," "sullen," and "now and then under the influence of Morpheus." Later Stuart reported that only talk of farming and horses had enlivened his subject's stony face.

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