- Gallery Text
The history of this portrait is tied to a larger story of government patronage, artistic exchange, and transatlantic miscommunication. In 1784, Benjamin Harrison, the governor of Virginia, commissioned Peale to paint a portrait of George Washington (1732–1799). He was to dispatch the finished work to Paris, where his accurate portrayal of the heroic general and future president would serve as a model for the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, who was carving a full-length statue of Washington for the Virginia State House.
This is the work Peale painted at Harrison’s request. It portrays Washington at the Surrender of Yorktown, the decisive military victory that effectively ended the Revolutionary War. Though Peale shipped the finished portrait as instructed, it never served its intended function. Instead of working from it, and without the knowledge of either Peale or the Virginia legislators, Houdon traveled to Mount Vernon in 1785 to create his portrait from life.
- Identification and Creation
- Object Number
Charles Willson Peale, American (Chester, Queen Anne's County, MD 1741 - 1827 Philadelphia, PA)
- George Washington (1732-1799)
- Work Type
- Creation Place: North America, United States
Level 2, Room 2240, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, The Arts in the Eighteenth–Century Atlantic World
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- Physical Descriptions
- Oil on canvas
- 241.3 x 145.7 cm (95 x 57 3/8 in.)
framed: 257.5 x 161 x 12.1 cm (101 3/8 x 63 3/8 x 4 3/4 in.)
- Inscriptions and Marks
- inscription: l.l.: WASHINGTON; on document on the table, c.r.: York Virginia October 17 1781/ Articles of Capitulation drawn up/ between His Excellency General/ Washington Commander in chief of the combined forces of/ America and…
- Commissioned by Gov. Benjamin Harrison for the Virginia Legislature, 1784; Thomas Jefferson, Paris, 1785; Vicomte de Noailles, by descent to great-grandson, Duc de Mouchy, sold; to Jonce J. McGurk, New York, 1930. [Martin Birnbaum] sold; to Grenville L. Winthrop, October 1942, bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1943.
- Acquisition and Rights
- Credit Line
- Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
- Accession Year
- Object Number
- European and American Art
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- Publication History
Sherwin McRae, Washington: His Person as Represented by the Artists. The Houdon Statue, Its History and Value., R. F. Walker (Virginia, 1873)
Elizabeth Bryant Johnston, Original Portraits of Washington, Including Statues, Monuments and Medals, J. R. Osgood and Co. (Boston, MA, 1882), pp.13-14
Charles Henry Hart and Edward Biddle, Memoirs of the life and works of Jean Antoine Houdon, the sculptor of Voltaire and of Washington, De Vinne Press, New York (Philadelphia, PA, 1911), pp. 184-185
John Hill Morgan and Mantle Fielding, The Life Portraits of Washington and their Replicas, Lancaster Press, Inc. (Lancaster, PA, 1931), pp. 36-37, no. 30
Gustavus A. Eisen, Portraits of Washington, R. Hamilton & Associates (New York, 1932), vol. II, pp. 366, 418
[Reproduction only], "A Special Number Devoted to the Grenville Lindall Winthrop Bequest", Bulletin of the Fogg Museum of Art, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, November 1943)., ill. p. 64
Washington, Lafayette, Franklin: Portraits, Books, Manuscripts, Prints, Memorabilia, for the Most Part from the Collections of the University, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1944), pp. 7-10, cat. 2, ill.
Charles Coleman Sellers, "Portraits and Miniatures by Charles Willson Peale", Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (1952), vol. 42, pt. 1, pp. 236-237, no. 936, fig. 360
Dorothy W. Gillerman, ed., Grenville L. Winthrop: Retrospective for a Collector, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, 1969), p. 238
Kenyon Castle Bolton, III, Peter G. Huenink, Earl A. Powell III, Harry Z. Rand, and Nanette C. Sexton, American Art at Harvard, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1972), cat. 15, ill.
Louise Todd Ambler, Benjamin Franklin: A Perspective, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1975), pp. 93, 139-140, no. 80, ill. p. 93
John S. Hallam, "Charles Willson Peale and Hogarth's line of beauty", The Magazine Antiques (New York, November 1982), vol. CXXII, no 5, pp. 1074-1079, pp. 1076-1077, fig. 9
Stephan Wolohojian, ed., A Private Passion: 19th-Century Paintings and Drawings from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection, Harvard University, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press (U.S.) (New York, 2003), p. 46
Teresa A. Carbone, American Paintings in the Brooklyn Museum: Artists Born by 1876, Brooklyn Museum (New York, 2006), p. 843
Stephan Wolohojian and Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, ed. Stephan Wolohojian, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, 2008), ill. p. 125
Thomas W. Lentz, ed., Harvard University Art Museums Annual Report 2006-7, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, 2008), p. 18
Anthony Grafton, Glenn W. Most, and Salvatore Settis, ed., The Classical Tradition, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 2010), fig. 60
Maurie D. McInnis, "Revisiting Cincinnatus: Houdon's George Washington", ed. Maurie D. McInnis and Louis P. Nelson, University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA, 2011), pp. 131-132, ill. p. 133
Judy Murray and Ray Williams, Engaging New Americans, Preparing for US Citizenship with the Harvard Art Museums, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2012), ill. p. 16
Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. and Melissa Renn, American Paintings at Harvard, Volume One: Paintings, Watercolors, and Pastels by Artists Born before 1826, Yale University Press (U.S.) and Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge and New Haven, 2014), pp. 28, 386-88, cat. 350, ill.
- Exhibition History
Washington Lafayette Franklin, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 02/22/1944 - 05/28/1944
The American Spirit in Portraiture, 1675 - 1900, Fogg Art Museum, 01/19/1951 - 02/24/1951
American Art at Harvard, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/19/1972 - 06/18/1972
Benjamin Franklin: A Perspective, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/17/1975 - 09/22/1975
Master Paintings from the Fogg Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/13/1977 - 08/31/1977
32Q: 2240 18th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014
- Subjects and Contexts
Google Art Project
- Related Works
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