"But when it is known and recollected that his Aspect was as Noble as his Conduct, and that his countenance corresponded with his character, it is impossible to suppress a patriotic and natural desire to behold an impressive Image of his Countenance." - Rembrandt Peale, Washington (1826)
Rembrandt Peale first painted George Washington in 1795 when he was only seventeen years old. Almost thirty years later, the artist reworked his life portrait into what he called his "Standard National Likeness," or George Washington, Patriae Pater, which depicted Washington in a stonework oval or "porthole." Peale vigorously promoted this image over the next three decades, executing at least 75 replicas and several prints of it. By popularizing his "perfect representation" of Washington to icon status, Peale - an advocate of physiognomy or the idea external appearances revealed one's true character - believed succeeding generations of Americans would be enlightened by and elevated to Washington's great nobleness.
Vertical, rectangular, bust-length portrait of George Washington in military uniform, set within a green-gray trompe l’oeil stonework oval with faux cracks. Washington is shown with his shoulders facing forward, and with his head lifted and turned to the proper right. There are folds in the chin, and a cast shadow below. His face has a range of flesh tones, and is particularly florid at the cheeks with peach-orange and pinkish-red tones there and at the lips. The grey-blue eyes have enlarged pupils and daubs of white—for reflectivity—with significant wrinkling around the proper left eye. Washington’s white hair is shown swept into a nearly pompadour style, with curls becoming darker grey-brown at the sideburns and back.
He wears a white jabot and buff-colored waistcoat under a dark navy coat with buff-colored facings and gold epaulettes, with three stars on each side, and dark gilt coat buttons. The background has cream-colored clouds at top and dark grey clouds below, with those at lower proper left tinged red-orange. The portrait is lit from the upper proper right, but there is an overall glow which extends to the edge of the stonework framing device.
The painting is in a 19th century gilt wood frame, decorated at the top with a laurel crown, and garlands of acorns and oak leaves, and on the sides with fasces, and at the bottom with a decorative embellishment.
Oil on canvas, carved gilt wood frame, glass
Overall (H x W, framed): 42 5/8 in. x 35 3/4 in. (108.27 cm x 90.81 cm)
Other (H x W): 36 in. x 29 1/2 in. (91.44 cm x 74.93 cm)
Bequest of Luisita L. Cofer, 1956
(Reverse not examined in 2016.)
Signed at lower proper right front of canvas, in dark brown paint: "Rembrandt Peale."
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