This striking half-length portrait of George Washington was executed by Charles Peale Polk, a nephew of prominent artists Charles Willson Peale and James Peale. Orphaned at a young age, Polk was both raised and taught by Charles Willson Peale, who painted Washington from life on numerous occasions. Though Polk wrote to Washington in August 1790 requesting the “Honorable priveledge of One Short Setting from the President to enable him to finish a portrait of your Excellency…” it is unlikely such a sitting occurred. This work is instead likely based on a composite by James Peale after Charles Willson Peale’s 1787 "Convention" portrait, but includes references to the elder Peale’s Princeton-type portraits. Polk’s paintings reflect the enormous demand for portraiture of the nation's new leader: there are at least 57 including this example, which is numbered 47.
Vertical, rectangular, half-length portrait of George Washington in military uniform, his head and body facing to the proper left, and gazing out at the viewer. He wears a navy blue coat with buff-colored facings, gold buttons and gold epaulettes decorated with three silver six-pointed stars, with a buff-colored waistcoat, white shirt ruffle and sleeve ruffles. His hair is gray and a black ribbon-wrapped queue is just visible above proper right shoulder. He grasps the interior of a green-lined black tricorn hat with his proper right thumb. The index finger extends while the middle ring and pinky finger grasp the hilt of his gilded smallsword. The sword itself projects out of view. At proper right background stand two white tents with green foliage behind them; before them are two uniformed soldiers, in white shirts and trousers and navy coats with red trim. A light blue flag with red and white stripes and a circle of pale white stars flies above them. At proper left background, Princeton’s Nassau Hall is indicated by a tall, narrow white building with gray roof, and five chimneys. Encircling it are three large and three small terra-cotta-colored buildings. There are two rows of brown wooden fencing in front of the buildings. The sky around the buildings and above the tents has a pinkish glow; it becomes pale blue sky with pink clouds above that, and above Washington’s head, a much darker grey-blue.
The canvas is glazed in a period, possibly original, gilt wood frame.
Oil on canvas; gilt wood
Overall: 36 in. x 29 in. (91.44 cm x 73.66 cm)
Overall (Frame): 46 3/8 in. × 39 1/2 in. × 4 3/4 in. (117.79 cm × 100.33 cm × 12.07 cm)
Overall (Sight): 35 3/4 in. × 28 5/8 in. (90.81 cm × 72.71 cm)
Purchased with funds donated by Donald and Nancy de Laski, Adrienne Mars, Vice Regent for Wyoming, A. Alfred Taubman Acquisition Endowment Fund, and the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, 2009
“C.s Polk/ No. 47 Painter,” in black paint on the relined canvases’ verso--presumably by a later hand copying the inscription on the original canvas verso. (Slightly visible through the Foamcore backing board.)
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