Martha Washington commissioned Gilbert Stuart for portraits of herself and her husband in 1796. Although George Washington's jaw and mouth look stiff and uncomfortable due to a new set of ill-fitting dentures, Stuart was so satisfied with the resulting likeness that he kept the unfinished canvases as sources for his many replicas. He painted approximately 75 of George Washington, including this extremely fine example, each with slight variations. Despite repeated requests from Martha Washington and Tobias Lear for the originals, Stuart's original portraits of our nation's first couple never made it to Mount Vernon. Today, the original, or “Athenaeum” portrait is owned jointly by the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The work is arguably the most recognized image of George Washington, as a version of it appears on the U.S. one-dollar bill.
Vertical, rectangular, bust-length portrait of George Washington, facing proper right, and gazing at the viewer. He wears a black velvet high-collared coat and waistcoat with a white stock and shirt ruffle of patterned lace. He has been shown with pale skin and very pink lips and cheeks. The work is lit from the upper proper right, and there are several brightly lit spots, such as at the tip of Washington’s nose and his forehead. His powdered hair is shown in a range of tones from gray to cream, and is worn in a queue with a black hair bag adorned with a sawtoothed ribbon rosette. The background is painted in a taupe-brown color and is generally uniform.
Oil on canvas; gilt wood frame
Overall (Canvas): 29 3/16 in. × 24 in. × 1 3/16 in. (74.14 cm × 60.96 cm × 3.02 cm)
Other (frame): 35 13/16 in. x 30 5/8 in. (90.96 cm x 77.79 cm)
Other (frame molding width): 3 3/4 in. (9.53 cm)
Gift of Caroline H. Richardson, 1904
Mount Vernon's object research is ongoing and information about this object is subject to change. For information on image use and reproductions, click here