The Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art
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An eloquent new look at the beginnings of the American republic―through the portraits of its first icon, George Washington, and the painters who defined him.
"I am so hackneyed to the touches of the painters pencil, that I am now altogether at their beck…no dray moves more readily to the Thill, than I do to the Painters Chair."―George Washington, May 16, 1785
When George Washington was born, the New World had virtually no artists. Over the course of his life and career, a cultural transformation would occur. Virtually everyone regarded Washington as America's indispensable man, and the early painters and sculptors were no exception. Hugh Howard brings to life the founding fathers of American painting, and the elusive Washington himself, through the history of their portraits. We meet Charles Willson Peale, the comrade-in-arms; John Trumbull, the aristocrat; Benjamin West, the mentor; and Gilbert Stuart, the brilliant wastrel and most gifted painter of his day.
Howard's narrative traces Washington's interaction with these and other artists, while offering a fresh and intimate portrait of the first president. The Painter's Chair is an engaging narrative of how America's first painters toiled to create an art worthy of the new republic, and of the hero whom they turned into an icon.
501.2-inch-by-411.2-inch Washington portrait, and £13 for the three miniatures (each was just 11.2 inches high, 11.16 inches wide). The two men, their first transaction complete, could not have guessed that this first image of George Washington, portrayed as a soldier in service to the Crown, would be the first of many portraits Peale would paint of Washington as his role in the world evolved. CHAPTER 3 The General I am well acquainted with Gen.l Washington who is a Man of very few
Continentals accomplished the heroic nighttime crossing of a river nearly choked with ice. Having then marched more than ten miles to Trenton, the Americans routed the Hessian mercenaries holding the town, taking some nine hundred of them prisoner. But the victory was far from complete. Only half of Washington’s forces had been able to cross the river, because an ice jam downstream had prevented eight hundred members of the Pennsylvania militia from crossing to Trenton, while violent currents
galloped home. He reached Mount Vernon on Christmas Eve 1783, firm in his resolve to stay there. “At length my Dear Marquis I am become a private citizen,” he had written to Lafayette, “under the shadow of my own Vine and my own Figtree free from the bustle of a camp & the busy scenes of public life . . . I shall be able to view the solitary walks, & tread the paths of private life with heartfelt satisfaction . . . until I sleep with my Fathers.”13 A demanding taskmaster, the squire of Mount
from the table, so did Houdon; he remained within earshot of Washington’s conversation, too. The visitor quite evidently hoped to consummate a deal for the horses and, after a time, the General asked the man to name his price. When he did, Washington reacted by throwing his head back and uttering a strong but indecipherable sound of outrage. At that moment, the artist saw the pose he wished to record. He would portray Washington with his chin raised, head tilted slightly, with a certain firmness
process on their skins. While the process was proceeding, six-year-old Eleanor Custis (Nelly) happened past the doorway to the servants’ hall. A daughter of Martha Washington’s son Jacky, Nelly and her younger brother Washy (George Washington Parke Custis) had become wards of the Washingtons. In the four years since her father’s death she had come to regard the General as her father, so Nelly was alarmed at the sight of him laid out on the table, covered with a sheet as if dead. She was soon