Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy - George Washington

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Image of George Washington

Rembrandt Peale , (Feb 22, 1778–Oct 3, 1860)

George Washington

c. 1820
36 1/2 in. x 29 3/8 in. (92.71 cm x 74.61 cm)

Medium and Support: oil on canvas
Credit Line: gift of anonymous donor
Accession Number: 1930.5


Rembrandt Peale (1778–1860) was a member of one of America's most illustrious families of painters. The patriarch and the most well-known of the family, Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827), had a total of nine children, most of whom he named for important artists: Raphaelle, Angelica Kauffman, Rembrandt, Titian Ramsay, and Rubens. Charles Peale painted seven life-portraits of George Washington and in 1795 he arranged for his seventeen year old son Rembrandt to paint Washington. The product of three life sessions, the portrait was a severe representation of the older statesman, warts and all, unlike the idealized, universalized ones done at the same time by his father and the iconic Vaughan portrait of Gilbert Stuart of the same year. Rembrandt used his portrait as the basis for numerous copies and versions in the coming years. In 1824, he produced what he called a "standard likeness," based on his 1795 portrait, Houdon's bust, paintings by his father, Gilbert Stuart, and other images of Washington. The result, the Senatorial Portrait--in which the bust of the president is surrounded by a stone enframement into which is carved the words, Patriae Pater--was not received favorably by other artists who questioned the value of what they thought was a fanciful fabrication.

Rembrandt's correspondence toW. H. Platt in 1854 states: "I painted this Portrait, with but little reference to any pecuniary compensation, but for my own heart's satisfaction, to take with me to Europe, proudly to be valued as the Father of my Country & the revered of all Nations. I never offered it to Congress, but the Senate flattered me into their acquisition of it by an unanimous vote, supported by Henry Clay, who declared that if he could have his wish,'Not only every Room in the Capitol, but every house in the United States, should have the Portrait of Washington in it.'" Rembrandt added, " . . . it is my devotional duty, in reproducing them, to gratify the taste & patriotism of those who think with Chateaubriand that 'There is a Virtue in the looks of a great Man."' In fact, Rembrandt exerted considerable effort to convince the Senate to purchase the painting; they did not do so until1834. Rembrandt, like Gilbert Stuart before him, saw the money-making potential of a Washington portrait. Using his Senatorial portrait as a model, in the 1840s and 1850s Rembrandt produced
nearly 80 smaller copies, known as the porthole portraits. The Addison's portrait is the smaller of the two sizes, generally either 35 x 29 or 30 x 25. Thomas Cochran purchased the portraits of George and Martha in London in 1928 and donated them to the Addison in 1930.

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