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This unique likeness of George Washington by English artist James Sharples, showing Washington in civilian dress in an oval, is believed to have been drawn from life. Sharples apparently produced his pastel portraits relatively quickly—within several hours—and yet their characterizations of the sitters were generally superb. A number of sources suggest that Sharples’s supposedly mathematically correct proportions were derived from the use of a physiognotrace, a type of pantograph. Likely produced in Philadelphia in 1796, this portrait was displayed in Mount Vernon’s Front Parlor together with the artist's pastel portraits of Martha Washington, Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis and George Washington Parke Custis, and the Marquis de Lafayette's son, Georges Washington Lafayette. Following Martha Washington’s death, the set was inherited by George Washington Parke Custis, and hung at Arlington House until the Civil War.

Description

Oval, bust-length profile portrait of George Washington in pastel, facing proper left with shoulders slightly turned to the proper right. His hair is powdered and tied back with a black ribbon. Washington wears a black velvet coat with white neck ruffles. The attire shows areas of loss along the collar and lapels, as well as the ruffles. Washington’s face has an unusual profile, with a particularly rounded nose and softened features, likely due to pastel losses. The pale skin has acquired darkened tones below and to proper right of the ear. The polychromatic background has an area of strikingly vivid blue tones from top center to about 1:00 o'clock. Below this is a dark grey-indigo color; from below the sitter’s shoulders it is ochre.

Date

c. 1796


People


Geography


Material/Technique

Pastel on laid paper


Dimensions

Overall: 9 15/16 in. x 7 7/8 in. (25.24 cm x 20 cm)


Credit Line

Purchase, 1954


Object Number

W-1962/A-C


Colors (Beta)


Mount Vernon's object research is ongoing and information about this object is subject to change. For information on image use and reproductions, click here.
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