Edward Savage (painter)|
American, 1761 - 1817
The Washington Family, 1789-1796
oil on canvas
overall: 213.6 x 284.2 cm (84 1/8 x 111 7/8 in.) framed: 247.7 x 316.2 x 15.2 cm (97 1/2 x 124 1/2 x 6 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
Object 4 of 8
When George Washington married Martha Custis, she was a wealthy widow. In 1781 the couple adopted her orphaned grandchildren, Eleanor and George. Edward Savage's nine-foot-wide picture is the only group portrait developed from life sittings of America's first "First Family." In 1789-1790 the Washingtons posed for studies in New York City.
From 1791 to 1794 Savage lived in London and did not resume work on the huge oil painting until he returned to the United States. On 20 February 1796 he advertised The Washington Family as the main attraction at the Columbian Gallery, his private museum in Philadelphia, where visitors could see "The President and Family, the full size of life." Engravings after this image earned the artist a fortune, as did the entrance fees collected from his frequent exhibitions of the canvas.
Savage's catalogue states that Washington's uniform and the papers beneath his hand allude to his "Military Character" and "Presidentship." With a map of the new District of Columbia in front of her, Martha is "pointing with her fan to the grand avenue," now known as Pennsylvania Avenue. Because Savage had never seen Mount Vernon, he added imaginary elements such as marble columns and a liveried servant. The formal symmetry derives from British portraits in the Grand Manner, but the stiff postures and awkward anatomy reveal Savage's limited experience.
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