All week we’ve been celebrating major acquisitions of 2014, and we’ll continue to share some of our favorite recent additions to the collection through Wednesday. Check out previous posts on Andy Warhol’s Shoe, American quilts, John Singleton Copley’s Henry Barry, and Wendy Red Star’s Four Seasons series.
This dramatic portrait of the founding father was part of a transformative bequest by the late C.C. Johnson Spink and Edith “Edie” Spink. The gift of 225 works of art was formally accepted into the Art Museum collection in November, but some works—including George Washington—already were on view in the galleries as long-term loans.
The son of artist Charles Wilson Peale, Rembrandt Peale studied art at his father’s side. Painting alongside his father as a 17-year-old, he painted George Washington from life. Many years later, that experience would influence this depiction showing Washington surrounded by a trompe l’oeil stone oval opening. (The original hangs in the U.S. Senate; other museums with this same pose include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mount Vernon, National Gallery of Art, and National Portrait Gallery.)
Janeen Turk, the Art Museum’s assistant curator for American art, described the portrait as “one of the artist’s best-known works and one of the most iconic images of the first president” in an acquisition proposal prepared for the Museum’s collection committee. She continued:
A founding member of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, (Peale) concentrated on portraits and history painting. He opened a natural history/paintings museum in Baltimore in 1814, the first building to be constructed as a museum in the United States. In 1822 Peale moved to New York City, where he served as President of the American Academy of Art, and was a founder of the National Academy. It was there that he began painting another portrait of George Washington that he hoped would become the “standard national likeness.” Hoping to create an inspirational, heroic image of Washington, he based his painting on his earlier life portrait and other Washington portraits by his father and other artists. The result, the so-called “porthole portrait,” was first displayed in 1824. The portrait was widely exhibited and Peale promoted it through lectures and brochures. Peale spent the next two decades creating approximately 79 copies of it; these paintings helped supply him with a steady income in the last years of his life, which were spent in Philadelphia.
George Washington is on view in Gallery 334, adjacent to other early American portraits, including Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington.