Peale represents the hero of the American Revolution as a dignified military commander who meets the viewer’s gaze firmly but not intimidatingly. The portrait emphasizes Washington’s rank as the commander of the Continental Army, indicated by the general’s three-starred epaulets. Sunk deeply into their sockets, Washington’s carefully rendered eyes reflect the artist’s experience painting miniature portraits.
Peale adopted this likeness of Washington from a full-length portrait he completed in January 1779 at the request of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania. The original work celebrated recent American victories at Trenton (1776) and Princeton (1777), both battles in which Peale fought. These successes came amid a series of American defeats, breathing much-needed life into a faltering war effort. In the present portrait, however, Peale omitted all allusions to these locales, so that the portrait focuses exclusively on Washington and his quiet nobility.
Written by Timothy Clark, Class of 2012
American Art Intern, Spring 2012
portraits; historical figures; male
Link to share this object record: