The Face of the Nation: George Washington, Art, and America
Join leading historians, curators, and art historians for a fascinating look at some of the unforgettable icons of American art, from Gilbert Stuart’s unfinished portrait of the first president, to Emanuel Leutze’s dramatic tableau of Washington Crossing the Delaware. Explore how different artists met the challenge of portraying the enigma that was Washington, and how his image played a pivotal role in developing America’s image of itself, its history, and its future. You’ll never look at a dollar bill the same way again!
Friday, November 7
|3:00 to 6:30 PM
Participants are invited to register in the Vaughan Lobby of the Mount Vernon Inn Complex.
||George Through the Looking Glass: Reflections on Washington and America’s Old Master
In mid 18th century America, the art of portraiture was an amateur affair. By 1799, however, the year that George Washington died, numerous European-trained painters were at work producing portraits of rich and powerful Americans. And all them—Stuart, the Peales, Trumbull, and Savage—had painted the Father of Our Country. Washington fathered the American republic but he also fostered a cultural transformation, enabling art to come of age in the new nation. Hugh Howard will talk about how we look at images of Washington and others, as well as ourselves, and of the men who helped make the General the iconic presence he remains in the public imagination.
Hugh Howard is a writer and historian who writes of the American past, most often of its architecture, paintings, and presidents. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Houses of the Presidents, Houses of the Founding Fathers, and The Painter’s Chair.
||First the Painting, then the Print: How Washington’s Contemporaries Saw Him
At the start of the Revolutionary War, almost any fictitious image could pass as a portrait of an American hero. But George Washington as Commander-in-Chief warranted extra efforts. From the start of the Revolution, American printmakers searched for an accurate likeness of the Commander-in-Chief. So what did the average farmer, frontiersman, housewife, or child see of Washington’s countenance? Despite the limited visual culture of the era, Washington’s face, generally copied from a painting, appeared in or on framing prints, book and magazine illustrations, almanacs, broadsides, children’s primers, and songsheets. Well-known patriotic symbols and allegorical figures adorned the most modest replications of his portrait. Even those who didn’t have access to paintings and sculptures experienced the visual dissemination of fame that made Washington the father of his country during his own lifetime.
Wendy Wick Reaves is Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery. She has curated numerous exhibitions, lectured widely, and published books on portrait prints, 20th century portrait drawings, celebrity caricature, and self-portraiture.
|5:30 to 6:30 PM
||Mansion Tour and Reception
Drinks and hors d’oeuvres will be served and authors will be available to autograph books purchased in the Shops at Mount Vernon.
||Dinner at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant
||Conversations with Charles Willson Peale and General Washington
Mr. Peale has come to visit his friend and comrade-in-arms George Washington in his retirement at Mount Vernon. Their reminiscences span nearly three decades of significant history. The dignified and reserved General and the ebullient, jack-of-all-trades artist are more than just an odd couple. Mutual interests in agriculture, science, art, and their shared experiences during the revolution make for fascinating and informative conversation.
Bob Gleason has portrayed over 150 historical characters spanning some 2,500 years. He has appeared at Independence Hall, the White House Visitors’ Center, Ford’s Theatre, and the Smithsonian Institution. Since 2007, Dean Malissa has portrayed the Father of Our Country as the official George Washington at Mount Vernon and across the nation.
Saturday, November 8
||George Washington: Cincinnatus or Marcus Aurelius?
In Richmond, Virginia stand two important sculptural monuments representing George Washington: Jean Antoine Houdon’s George Washington (1789) and Thomas Crawford’s Virginia Washington Monument (1858-1869). Houdon’s represents George Washington as a man of peace with allegorical references to the famous Roman citizen/soldier/farmer Cincinnatus whereas Crawford’s equestrian monument represents Washington as a man of military might. The image of Washington has often been a cypher for contemporary American political currents. This presentation will explore the political and cultural currents that led to such different images of the Father of his Country.
Maurie McInnis is professor of Art History and vice provost for academic affairs at the University of Virginia. She has served as author or editor of numerous articles and four books, the most recent of which: Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade (2011) was awarded the Charles C. Eldredge Book Prize from the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Library of Virginia Literary Award for non-fiction.
||Gilbert Stuart’s Portraits of George Washington: Originals, Replicas and Copies
During Gilbert Stuart’s fifty-five years as a portrait painter, George Washington was his most important sitter. He painted Washington from life on three occasions in 1795 and 1796, during Washington’s second term as President. The portraits exemplify the three reasons that all portraits of Washington were created: on request from an ambitious artist; a private commission from family and close friends; and to honor the president in his public role. Stuart painted about 100 versions of his three portraits, and other artists made as many copies. This talk will discuss what these portraits tell us about Washington, about Stuart, and about the practice of portrait painting in late eighteenth century America.
Ellen Miles is Curator Emerita of the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, where she was on the staff for almost 40 years. Her publications and exhibitions include American Colonial Portraits, 1700-1776; Saint-Memin and the Neoclassical Profile Portrait in America; George and Martha Washington: Portraits from The Presidential Years; and Capital Portraits; Treasures from Washington Private Collections.
||First in Art: George Washington as a Leading Patron of the Arts in America
In the 1790s, George Washington emerged as an avant-garde collector and patron of American art, developing an extensive collection of paintings and prints that elevated American subjects to the ranks of European masterworks. This talk will examine Washington’s distinctive vision as a patron and collector, vis à vis contemporaries such as Thomas Jefferson and William Hamilton of the Woodlands. Washington’s patronage of the arts aimed to advance American cultural maturity, if not independence, and was driven by his hopes for the country’s future. His appraisal of American landscapes as “grand objects” for painting was also prescient: a full generation would pass before Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School realized the potential he had first envisioned.
Amanda Isaac is the Associate Curator at Mount Vernon. Her recent publications include Take Note! George Washington the Reader (2013) and Ann Flower’s Sketchbook: Drawing, Needlework, and Women’s Artistry in Colonial Philadelphia (Winterthur Portfolio, 2007).
||Lunch at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant
||Baltimore’s Washington Monument and the Development of National Artistic Symbols in the New Republic
The first monument erected to honor the memory of George Washington was the Baltimore Washington Monument designed by architect Robert Mills (cornerstone laid July 4, 1815). While a new nation, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries questions remained regarding who would be the sponsors of cultural expressions and be responsible for the development of national artistic imagery. Led by a private board, and funded by a public lottery, for many years this project was championed by Baltimorean Robert Gilmor, Jr. (1774–1848), recognized as one of the most important art collectors and patrons before the Civil War. Gilmor’s many intersections with celebrating and documenting the life of the first President offer insights into the cultural formation of a new country.
Dr. Lance Humphries is an art and architectural historian whose work focuses in part on art collecting and patronage in the Early Republic. He is chair of the restoration committee of the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy which is restoring the Baltimore Washington Monument in preparation for its bicentennial in 2015.
||Stitched in Silk: Colorful Images for American Homes
The early years of the American republic coincided with the establishment of large numbers of female academies, and the proper education of future “republican mothers” was widely viewed as critical to successful self-government. Republican mothers were to ensure the nation’s future by instilling in their children civic virtue and love of liberty. Pictorial silk embroideries produced in female academies throughout the country imprinted these lessons on youthful hearts and minds, and after 1799, images of George Washington and Mount Vernon joined the repertoire of popular subjects. Proudly displayed in their makers’ homes, Washington embroideries offered a colorful alternative to mass produced prints and proclaimed a personal connection to the father of the nation.
Susan P. Schoelwer is Mount Vernon’s Robert H. Smith Senior Curator. She has edited or authored numerous publications on American history and art, including the forthcoming The General in the Garden: George Washington’s Landscape at Mount Vernon; “Mount Vernon’s New Room” (Magazine Antiques, March/April 2014); and Connecticut Needlework: Women, Art, and Family, 1740-1840 (2010).
Reframing Washington for Modern Times: The Twentieth Century and Beyond
In a time when heroes were as often “debunked” as venerated, George Washington was no exception. Still, twentieth-century artists continued to depict Washington in diverse, creative ways—often by reworking and parodying Emanuel Leutze’s iconic history painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware. Colonial Revival images of Washington proliferated in the decades leading up to the 1932 bicentennial of his birth. After World War II, successive artistic movements from Abstract Expressionism to Conceptualism influenced the portrayal of his life and deeds. Satire and humor, too, have entered into Washington’s visual depiction. Today’s Washington image may seem more fragmented—and less on a pedestal—than its counterpart 150 years ago, but his iconography remains no less integral to our national mythology.
Scott Casper is Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and Professor of History at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is the author of Sarah Johnson’s Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine, among other books and articles.