This portrait of George Washington was likely made in 1795 by Swedish painter Wertmüller, a talented academician who had been appointed “First Painter” of the Swedish King. This depiction of Washington, with its exceedingly direct gaze, conveys an unusual sense of vitality not found in other portraits of the period. Of six Washington canvases the artist produced, two of them--including this work--remained unfinished, and three were in the artist’s possession at the time of his death. While the demand for contemporary Gilbert Stuart’s portraits of Washington was enormous, Wertmüller’s paintings were perhaps considered too academic and European to be fashionable. Rembrandt Peale (who also painted the president) described Wertmüller’s canvas as “dark in the coloring,” with a “German aspect."
A bust-length and three-quarters turned portrait of George Washington in civilian dress, lit from the proper right. He wears a black velvet coat and a white stock with many intricately-painted horizontal gathers. Washington’s jabot is not fully shown in lace, but is underpainted in a dark taupe color. It extends from the stock to nearly 2 inches from the lower edge of the frame. The face is finely executed with many variations in flesh tone—rosy pink at the cheeks, paler around the eyes, and darkening along the jowls and in the mustache and beard area. There are slight wrinkles at the forehead, and there is a suggestion of a dimple at the chin. The lips bear a very slight smile. Washington’s blue eyes have enlarged pupils, which hover above the center of the eyes, with white areas suggesting reflection; they appear to gaze directly at the viewer. His powdered hair is bright white at the edge of the hairline, appears light gray at proper right, and becomes darker gray in the shadowing at proper left; short sideburns appear at proper right. A large black queue bag is shown at the proper right shoulder. The background is light brown around the head, and gradually becomes dark brown at the edges.
The painting is framed in a gilt wood frame.
Oil on canvas; gilt wood frame
Overall (Canvas): 32 5/8 in. × 27 1/4 in. × 3 in. (82.87 cm × 69.22 cm × 7.62 cm)
Other (Canvas): 24 1/2 in. × 19 7/8 in. (62.23 cm × 50.48 cm)
Purchased by the Connoisseur Society of Mount Vernon, 2011
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