Gilbert Stuart
George Washington, c. 1821
Oil on wood
26 3/8 x 21 5/8 in. (67 x 55 cm)
Gift of Thomas Jefferson Coolidge IV in memory of his great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, his grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge II, and his father, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge III 1979.5.1
Image Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington


1st President of the United States; Term of Office: 1789-1797
In this 1821 portrait of George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart, a simple background leads the eye to the refinement of the posthumous sitter’s lace collar and the simple elegance of his black velvet coat. Washington’s pose and features are naturalistic and direct, offering a sense that it was the leader’s thoughts and deeds, rather than his property, title, or wealth, that made him important. The careful modeling of Washington’s forehead, the crow’s feet around his eyes, and the muscular tension in his jaw illustrate Stuart’s great skill as a portraitist.
In the months after George Washington’s death, the nation hungered for images of its 1st president, and Stuart realized that he was in a unique position to set the stylistic tone for public portraiture on both sides of the Atlantic. His portraits needed to be both distinct and easily copied by himself and engravers to keep up with market demand. This painting is one of several Stuart based upon his own famous, unfinished 1796 “Athenaeum” portrait of Washington.
Select facts derived from the collection object page: George Washington.


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