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 international artists.

Charles Willson Peale - 1772

U1897.1.1 George Washington as Colonel in the Virginia Regiment, Charles Willson Peale, 1772. Washington-Custis-Lee Collection, Washington and Lee University, Lexington VA

George Washington in the Uniform of a Colonel in the Virginia militia

  • Charles Willson Peale, American, (1741-1827)
  • 1772
  • Commissioned by Martha Washington
  • Washington-Custis-Lee Collection, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia

Inclination having yielded to opportunity, I am not, contrary to all expectation, under the hands of Mr. Peale; but in so grave - so sullen a mood - and now and then under the influence of Morpheus, when some critical strokes are making, that I fancy the skill of this Gentleman's Pencil, will be hard put to it, in describing to the World the manner of man I am.

- George Washington to Rev. Jonathan Boucher, May 21, 1772

 

Charles Willson Peale - 1776

Image in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of George washington

  • Charles Willson Peale, American, (1741-1827)
  • 1776
  • Commissioned by John Hancock
  • The Brooklyn Museum, New York

I am well acquainted with Gen.l W. who is a man of very few words but when he speaks it is on purpose [and] what I have often admired in him is he [has] always avoided saying anything of the actions in which he has engaged in the last war. [H]e is uncommonly modest, very industrious - prudent.

- Charles Willson Peale to Edmond Jennings, August 1775

Charles Willson Peale - 1776

The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.

Miniature of George Washington

In order to paint this miniature at the request of Mrs. Washington, Peale traveled to the location of the Continental Army in northern New Jersey near present-day New Market. Undoubtedly preoccupied with the war, Peale recorded that Washington had "promised to sit for his miniature, but at this Time he had not had the leisure," Eventually, Washington sat for the artist on September 28 in Pennsylvania.

Learn more about this object in the Mount Vernon museum collection.

Charles Willson Peale - 1779

Image in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

George Washington at the battle of 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.

Pierre Eugene du Simitere - 1779

Image courtesy the Princeton University Library.

George Washington

  • Pierre Eugene du Simitere, Swiss, (1737-1784)
  • 1779
  • Engraving, Reproduced in Paris
  • Princeton University Library, Princeton, New Jersey. Gift of Grenville Kane.

Drawn as a part of a series of American statesmen and military figures, Simitere sent his drawings to France for engraving. In 1785, Washington wrote:

[du Simitere]...drew many good likenesses from the life, and got them engraved at Paris for sale.

- Washington to William Gordon, March 8, 1785

Joseph Wright - 1783

Photo: Mount Vernon Ladies Association

Portrait of George Washington

  • Joseph Wright, American, (1734-1787)
  • 1783

Joseph Wright made multiple images of George Washington in several formats and media, including paintings, sculptures, and one engraving. Wright's plaster profile of Washington was hung in the Mansion study where it is exhibited today.

There are 5 known painted portraits, including the one pictured to the left, which all derive from Washington’s sitting with Wright at the General’s headquarters at Rocky Hill, New Jersey in the autumn of 1783. 

Washington records Wright's creation of his life mask in this lively and humorous account:

Wright came...with the singular request that I should permit him to take a model of my face, in plaster of Paris, to which I consented, with some reluctance. He oiled my features over; and placing me flat upon my back, upon a cot, preceded to daub my face with the plaster. Whilst in this ludicrous attitude, Mrs. Washington entered the room; and seeing, my face thus overspread with the plaster, involuntarily exclaimed. Her cry excited me in a disposition to smile, which gave my mouth a slight twist, or compression of the lips that is not observable in the bust which Wright afterward made.

Elkanah Watson, Men and Times of the Revolution, New York: Dana and Co., 1856, 119.

 

William Dunlap - 1783

Image courtesy the United States Senate.

  • William Dunlap, American, (1766-1839)
  • 1783
  • Sketch of General Washington
  • Pastel on Paper
  • The United States Senate. Gift of Anne Middleton Ellis in Memory of Her Husband, Augustus Van Horne Ellis

William Dunlap was just 17 when he sketched the General from life. He was staying at the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Horne near Rocky Hill, New Jersey. Van Horne suggested to Washington that he and Mrs. Washington might like to sit for the young artist. While the portrait of Mrs. Washington does not survive, Dunlap claimed, "I made what were thought likenesses."

Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, 1:235.

Charles Willson Peale - 1783

Image in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

George Washington aFTER THE BATTLE OF princeton

While differing in composition from "George Washington at the Battle of Princeton," significant similarities remain. Peale unveiled the work in person during commencement at the College of New Jersey on September 29, 1784.

Jean-Antoine Houdon - 1785

The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Photo by Mark Gulezian.

bust of george washington

  • Jean-Antoine Houdon, French, (1741-1828)
  • 1785
  • Sculpture, Terracotta
  • The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Transferred to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association through the generosity of John Augustine Washington

Born at French court, famed sculptor Houdon was known for capturing the spirit and accurate likenesses of European heads of state. Insisting upon the need to sculpt Washington from life, Houdon and three assistants arrived at Mount Vernon on October 2, 1785. There, Houdon made a life mask, modeled a terracotta bust from life, and took measurements of the General's form. The terracotta bust was presented to the General, and remains at Mount Vernon today.

Robert Edge Pine - 1785

Photo courtesy the National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.

GEorge Washington

  • Robert Edge Pine, English, (1730-1788)
  • 1785
  • The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

British painter Robert Edge Pine was a fervent supporter of the American cause for liberty, and relocated to Philadelphia in the summer of 1784. Supplied with letters of recommendation, he traveled to Mount Vernon to paint the General and members of the Washington family. The work was not widely known in Washington's day.

Charles Willson Peale - 1787

The Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C.

Mezzotint engraving of george washington

  • Charles Willson Peale, American, (1741-1827)
  • 1787
  • Mezzotint engraving
  • Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C.

Charles Willson Peale created a series of mezzotint engravings of Revolutionary War figures, including Benjamin Franklin and the Marquis de Lafayette. Peale captured Washington's likeness in Philadelphia during the Constitutional Convention on June 3, 1787.

John Ramage - 1789

Image courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. E.G. Nicholson.

Miniature of George washington

  • John Ramage, Irish, (1748-1802)
  • 1789
  • The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. E.G. Nicholson. Image courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. E.G. Nicholson

Washington, then president, was painted from life in New York by the Irish miniaturist John Ramage on October 3, 1789.

The Marquise de Brehan (Madame Brielle) - 1789

Photo: The Daughters of the American Revolution.

Miniature of George washington

  • The Marquise de Brehan (Madame Brielle), French, (  - 1826)
  • Given to Martha Washington
  • In the Private Collection of Mrs. Kate Upshur Moorhead, Daughters of the American Revolution

The Marquise de Brehan was the sister-in-law of the French Minister to the United States. She held a sincere admiration for George Washington, and first painted his likeness from memory prior to having the opportunity to paint him from life two years later. This miniature, produced in 1787, was presented to Mrs. Washington, and handed down to Mrs. Kate Upshur Moorhead, a direct descendant of Martha Washington. The General refers to the Marquise in his diary:

About two o'clock sat for Madame de Brehan (Brienne) to complete a profile picture of me which she had begun from memory, and which she has made exceedingly like the original.

- George Washington, October 3, 1788

Edward Savage - 1789

Image courtesy: Harvard University Portrait Collection, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Portrait of George washington

  • Edward Savage, American, (1761-1817)
  • 1789
  • Commissioned by Joseph Willard, president of Harvard College, for the university
  • Gift of Edward Savage to Harvard College, 1791
  • Harvard University Portrait Collection, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts

In 1789, president of Harvard, Joseph Williard, wrote to Washington requesting that a portrait of the first president be made for the college. Edward Savage, he wrote, "has politely and generously offered to take your Portrait...if you would be so kind to sit."

Painting other Washington works from memory, Savage writes that the portraits:

... of yourself and Mrs. Washington are generally thought to be likenesses.

- Edward Savage to George Washington, June 3, 1798

 

John Trumbull - 1790

The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.

Washington at Verplanck's Point New York, 1782, Reviewing the French Troops after the Victory at Yorktown

  • John Trumbull, American, (1756-1743)
  • 1790
  • Original: Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware
  • Copy: The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, Purchase, 1982, Object Number M-2832

Both a soldier and an artist, John Trumbull was a former aide to General George Washington during the American Revolution and served as deputy adjutant-general to General Horatio Gates. After the war, he traveled to London to study under English painter Benjamin West.

George Washington records the event in his diary on July 8, 1790:

Sat from 9 o'clock till after 10 for Mr. Jno. Trumbull, who was drawing a Portrait of me at full length which he intended to present to Mrs. Washington.

Learn more about this object in the Mount Vernon museum collection.

Guiseppe Ceracchi - 1791, 1795

Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Bust of George washington

  • Guiseppe Ceracchi, Italian, (1751-1801)
  • Terracotta bust 1791; marble bust 1795
  • Sculpture
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, bequest of John L. Cadwalader, 1914

The Italian artist created a terracotta bust of George Washington from life. It was used as a study for this 1795 marble bust, which presents Washington in the neoclassical style of celebrated generals from antiquity.

Sir, I take the liberty to enclose to you a Copy of a Memorial which I have the honor of presenting this day to Congress—Give me leave to submit it to the Friend and Patron of the fine Arts as well as to the President of the United States. I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Sir Your most obedient and most humble Servant, Joseph Ceracchi

- Giuseppe Ceracchi to George Washington, October 31, 1791

The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 9, 23 September 1791 – 29 February 1792, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000, pp. 132–133.

Archibald Robertson - 1790s

Miniature portrait of George Washington, Archibald Robertson, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1791-1792, watercolor on ivory in silver case with glass crystal, accession #1956-44,1. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Acquisition funded by an anonymous donor.

Miniature of George washington

  • Archibald Robertson, Scottish, (1765-1835)
  • 1790s
  • The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia

Agreeable to your desire, I have the honor to intimate that the picture for the Earl Buchan being finished, I mean to take the opportunity of a Ship that sails from this soon for Scotland to transmit it to his Lordship, any commands you may have for his Lordship, I shall be happy to have the honor to forward, I remain Sir with the highest respect Your Most Obdt Hble Servt, Archibald Robertson.

- Archibald Robertson to George Washington, April 21, 1792

Walter Robertson - 1790s

Image courtesy: Tudor Place, Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

Miniature of george washington

  • Walter Robertson, Irish, (1750-1801)
  • 1790s
  • Commissioned by George Washington for his step-granddaughter Martha Custis Peter on the occasion of her wedding
  • Tudor Place Collection, Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

When Mrs. Peter was about to be married, she wrote to General Washington and asked him to sit for his miniature for her, -telling him, that the wish nearest her heart was, to possess his likeness. He replied by saying, -he would with pleasure comply with her request; but, -he could never believe the wish nearest a young lady’s heart –on the eve of her marriage, was to possess an old man’s picture.

- Martha Peter's daughter Britannia

The Papers of George Washington, "Washington's Advice on Love and Marriage"

William Williams - 1793

Image courtesy the Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge No. 22.

George washington

  • William Williams, American, (1727-1791)
  • 1793
  • Pastel on Paper
  • Commissioned by the Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge No. 22
  • Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge No. 22

William Williams was an itinerant artist in Northern Virginia who eventually settled in Philadelphia. This work was commissioned by the Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge No. 22, where Washington was a Master.

Adolph Ulrick Wertmuller - 1794

Mount Vernon Ladies Association.

GEorge Washington

  • Adolph Ulrick Wertmuller, Swedish, (1751-1811)
  • 1794
  • The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Purchased by the Connoisseur Society of Mount Vernon, 2011. Catalogue Number W-4902

Wetmuller's contemporary, artist Rembrandt Peale commented on this work as:

...a highly finished laborious performance...with a German aspect.

Howard, Hugh. The Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009.

Gilbert Stuart - 1796

In public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The Vaughan Portrait and the Athenaeum portrait

  • Gilbert Stuart, American, (1755-1828)

In 1795 and 1796, George Washington sat for Stuart. Whiles scholars disagree about the final product created from these sittings, the resulting type of portrait is now commonly known as the "Vaughan", as one of the surviving examples resided in the collection of London merchant Samuel Vaughan.

Speaking on Stuart's ability to capture Washington's likeness, author John Neal wrote in his book Randolph in 1823:

If Washington should appear on earth, just as he sat to Stuart, I am sure that [he] would be treated as an impostor, when compared with Stuart's likeness of him, unless he produced his credentials

Howard, Hugh. The Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009.

Charles Willson Peale - 1795

Image courtesy The New York Historical Society, New York.

george washington

  • Charles Willson Peale, American, (1741-1827)
  • 1795
  • Collection of the New York Historical Society, New York

This portrait was Charles Willson Peales' seventh, and last, life portrait of George Washington.

Rembrandt Peale - 1795

Image courtesy The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

George washington

  • Rembrandt Peale, American, (1778-1860)
  • 1795
  • The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Like his father Charles Willson Peale, Rembrandt was a skilled artist. In the fall of 1795, he asked his father to convince George Washington to sit for a portrait. Charles, in agreement that such exposure would be beneficial to his young son's artistic career, requested a sitting with the General. Washington obliged.

Rembrandt later recalled that he asked his father:

to begin a portrait, alongside of me, keeping [Washington] in familiar conversation.

Quoted in Sellers, Portraits and Miniatures, 239.

James Sharples - 1796

The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.

George washington, first president of the united states

  • James Sharples, English, (1751-1811)
  • 1796
  • Pastel on paper
  • The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.

James Sharples, English pastelist, created three portraits of the General from life while in Philadelphia. One, in left profile, now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., another in right profile (on the left, and in the Mount Vernon collection), and the last in three-quarter. The right-profile portrait of Washington was later framed, and hung in Mount Vernon's West Parlor along with portraits of Martha Washington, George Washington (Washy) Parke Custis, Eleanor (Nelly) Custis, and George Washington Lafayette.

"I am so hackneyed to the touches of the painter's pencil, that I am now altogether at their beck...no dray moves more more readily to the Thrill, than I do to the Painter's Chair."

- George Washington to Francis Hopkinson, May 16, 1785

Sources

Barrat, Carrie Rebora and Ellen G. Miles. Gilbert Stuart. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004.

Eisen, G. A. Portraits of Washington. Volume III. New York: Robert Hamilton and Associates, 1932.

Howard, Hugh. The Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009.

Meschutt, David. "Life Portraits of George Washington" George Washington, American Symbol. ed. Barbara J. Mitnick. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1999.

Richardson, Edgar P. et al. Charles Peale and His World. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1982.

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