My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth… George Washington once said… and every 4th of July I think how foresighted he was… every 4th of July the Lansdowne Portrait of George Washington comes to my mind and I pay my respects to a great man! https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/george_washington_118910
When I can net a sum sufficient to take me to America, I shall be off to my native soil. There I expect to make a fortune by [portraits of] Washington alone. I calculate upon making a plurality of his portraits, whole lengths, what will enable me to realize; and if I should be fortunate, I will repay my English and Irish creditors. To Ireland and English, I shall be adieu. What a plan Gilbert Stuart had… and he was fortunate to accomplish it! It was early May of 1793 when the artist arrived in New York City, and he immediately put his plan to work. In 1794 a letter of introduction by John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, an old acquaintance since Stuart’s London days, and a close political confidant to George Washington, was provided, and the rest is history. Gilbert Stuart painted three different types of portraits of the 1st American President and dozens of subsequent copies. The “Vaughan Type” shows Washington facing slightly to his left, the “Athenaeum Type” shows the first president facing to his right, and the “Lansdowne Type” is a full-length portrait. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-americas/british-colonies/early-republic/a/gilbert-stuarts-lansdowne-portrait
Although I particularly like the Athenaeum Portrait, I find the full-length Lansdowne Type best befitting its purpose… grand and imposing, the portrait of a distinguished representative of the new American Democracy. The portrait was commissioned by Senator and Mrs. William Bingham of Pennsylvania as a gift to the Marquis of Lansdowne, an English supporter of American independence. Standing in front of the Lansdowne Portrait remember that the Smithsonian experts ask the viewer to consider three filters exploring this American treasure. Each one of these three different filters – symbolic (consider the represented objects surrounding the Portrait), biographic (Washington’s achievement and character are of the utmost importance), and artistic (let us not forget Stuart’s artistic abilities and personality) – will provide unique information and a distinct interpretation. https://www.georgewashington.si.edu/portrait/non-flash.html
In an advertisement for the first exhibition of the Lansdowne portrait in 1798, we read… He (George Washington) is surrounded with allegorical emblems of his public life in the service of his country, which are highly illustrative of the great and tremendous storms which have frequently prevailed. These storms have abated, and the appearance of the rainbow is introduced in the background as a sign. No doubt, all embellishments presented by the artist were chosen to further stress symbolic ideas to viewers.
He is the best and the greatest man the world ever knew… Neither depressed by disappointment and difficulties nor elated with temporary success. He retreats like a General and attacks like a Hero. Wrote the composer Francis Hopkinson as a reference to the president’s character. All you have to do is look at his relaxed posture, his expended hand, and unpretentious attire to understand Washington’s character and political strength.
Finally, let’s not forget the artist of the Portrait, Gilbert Stuart… the man Abigail Adams described as… Genius and Eccentric, the man you do not know how to take hold of… nor by what means to prevail upon him to fulfill his engagements.
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