Known as the "Porthole Portrait"; first version of "porthole" painted in 1823, numerous later versions in 1840s and 1850s.
This portrait is one of dozens that the Philadelphia-based artist painted of the Revolutionary War hero and first president. Appearing in officer’s uniform, Washington looks off to his right, engaged in a realm separate from the viewer’s. His stern expression is matched by the artist’s terse, no-nonsense technique, which conveys only essential characteristics of form and texture. The composition’s painted “porthole” and the elaborate frame enshrine the president by imposing barriers between him and his admirer.
Responding to waves of nostalgia that swept the United States as the country approached its fiftieth anniversary of nationhood in 1826, Peale believed that he was uniquely qualified to produce the truest likeness of Washington, who died in 1799: his father, Charles Willson Peale (whose James Peale Painting a Miniature and Mary Claypoole Peale are held by the Mead Art Museum), had served under Washington at Princeton, and the president had previously sat for Rembrandt Peale in 1795.