Director of Communications
MOUNT VERNON, VA – A portrait of George Washington considered to be one of the most intimate life portraits of the first president in existence is now on view in the John and Adrienne Mars Gallery of the Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center through January 7, 2015. It was painted by Washington’s former aide-de-camp, John Trumbull, as a gift to Martha Washington in 1790. Colonel John Trumbull, who served briefly as George Washington’s aide-de-camp in 1775, presented this striking likeness to Martha Washington in July 1790 as a token of his esteem for the First Lady. On loan from the Winterthur Museum, the painting was on view in the Mansion’s New Room for a limited time earlier this year.
“After eight long years of war, George Washington finally returned to Mount Vernon on Christmas Eve 1783,” said Robert H. Smith Senior Curator Dr. Susan P. Schoelwer. “It is particularly exciting to have this original portrait depicting the victorious general at the conclusion of the American Revolution here again for the holiday season, reminding Mount Vernon’s guests of those critical moments in American history.”
The artist depicted Washington in his blue and buff Continental Army uniform with his arms resting on his horse’s saddle. In the background, Trumbull chose to paint the important but now little known scene that occurred on September 14, 1782, when American troops encamped at Verplanck’s Point on the Hudson River greeted the French troops under the command of Rochambeau as they marched north after the victory at Yorktown. The French general later recalled this momentous occasion when George Washington “wishing to show his respect for France and his gratitude for its generous acts, had us [the French army] pass between the two ranks of his troops, clothed, equipped, and armed for the first time since the revolution.”
George Washington Parke Custis, George Washington’s step-grandson who grew up with the portrait in both the President’s house and Mount Vernon, wrote of this portrait that “The figure of Washington, as delineated by Colonel Trumbull, is the most perfect extant.” Custis recalled that the details of the clothing from the blue and buff uniform to the tack adorning the horse were all meticulously delineated from life creating “a very splendid performance throughout.”
Colonel John Trumbull is best known today as the “painter of the Revolution” for his many Revolutionary War history paintings. In 1780, Trumbull traveled to London to study under the famous American artist Benjamin West, and the young artist remained for two years before returning to the United States in 1782. He traveled again to England and Europe for further study from 1784 to 1798. During this second trip abroad, Trumbull began work on a series of history paintings depicting scenes from the American Revolution that would prominently feature Washington, including The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton; The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton; and The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. Washington sat for these paintings and both on horseback and off in the first several months of 1790.