National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of George Washington (Vaughan portrait) Gilbert Stuart (painter)
American, 1755 - 1828
George Washington (Vaughan portrait), 1795
oil on canvas
overall: 73 x 60.5 cm (28 3/4 x 23 13/16 in.) framed: 100.3 x 87.3 cm (39 1/2 x 34 3/8 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
Not on View
From the Tour: Gilbert Stuart
Object 3 of 5

With a letter of introduction from Chief Justice John Jay, Stuart was granted his first sittings from George Washington at Philadelphia, then the capital, in March 1795. The president, then sixty-three years old, grumbled about the drudgery of posing, and all of Stuart's wit and wisdom failed to interest him. The artist claimed that "an apathy seemed to seize him, and a vacuity spread over his countenance, most appalling to paint."

Nevertheless, this canvas has spontaneity because of its relatively quick, sketchy technique. The warm tan underpainting shows through the thinly brushed hair, while slashes of pigment model the black queue ribbon and form the highlights on collar and cravat. To impart Washington's imposing six-foot, two-inch stature, Stuart placed his head high in the design, as though the president towered above the viewer. Finally, he surrounded the president with a fiery glow like a halo.

Stuart made 104 or more likenesses of George Washington, who was president from 1789 to 1797. The pictures are grouped in categories named after the first owners of the original portraits from which Stuart made his own replicas: Vaughan (facing to his left), Athenaeum (facing to his right), and Lansdowne (full-length). Because this work was purchased by Samuel Vaughan, an American merchant living in London and a close friend of the president, Vaughan's name became associated with seventeen versions.

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