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This article originally appeared in Mount Vernon magazine, published three times a year by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.
Painted by Charles Willson Peale at Mount Vernon in 1772, this is the earliest known portrait of George Washington.
Martha Washington commissioned the painting of her husband as a companion to the 1757 portrait of her by John Wollaston, completed during her first marriage. Both paintings hung in the Front Parlor at Mount Vernon from 1772-1802, among other family portraits. Peale’s image is a highly evocative piece that commemorates Washington’s complicated past—his loyal military service and valor during the French and Indian War—but also acknowledges his then-status in retirement as a successful, middle-aged gentleman planter.
After the Washingtons’ deaths, the portrait was inherited by George Washington Parke Custis of Arlington House. It is part of the Washington-Custis-Lee Collection, given by Lee descendants to Washington & Lee University.
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.Learn More