Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy - Martha Washington

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Image of Martha Washington

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

Martha Washington

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: 1930.6


The veneration of George Washington and, by association, Martha Washington, began in America shortly after Washington left office as the first president, intensified at his death in 1799, and continued throughout the nineteenth century. Lillian Miller explained in George Washington: A National Icon, "Legendary while still alive, in death George Washington continued to accumulate legendary qualities . . . . All the republican values that the country identified with its national mission . . . were embodied in its hero." If George was the Father of the Country, his wife Martha was the Mother. While Martha never became the national icon that George was, she was often painted as a companion portrait to George.

Rembrandt Peale has posed Martha facing the opposite direction than George so she can be hung as the pendant. To further emphasize her use as a pendant, he has set her within the same porthole enframement that he used in his portrait of George. The inscription on the back of this canvas credits Rembrandt's father Charles Willson Peale with the image used; Rembrandt adds, however, that it is painted "with improvements." Charles Willson Peale's earliest portrait of Martha was a miniature done in 1776. •According to Lillian Miller, Peale is known to have painted two other miniatures, two three-quarter-length portraits, and one half-length of Mrs. Washington. Befitting her status as mother or even grandmother of the country, Martha is depicted as an older woman. Her shawl is modestly tucked into her bodice and her white hair is covered with a lace­ trimmed mopcap which, according to costume scholar Aileen Ribeiro, "was a uniform among women of her age and class."

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This object was included in the following exhibitions:

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Bartlett H. Hayes Prize Recipients


Reggie Burrows Hodges

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Tommy Kha

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