“George Washington” Lansdowne Portrait by Gilbert Stuart
This portrait of “George Washington” also known as the Lansdowne Portrait, is an iconic portrait of the first President of the United States. The portrait was painted from life and shows Washington at 64 years of age renouncing a third term as U.S. President. Replicas of this original, painted by Stuart are on display in the White House and some other national institutions.
This portrait was commissioned by one of the wealthiest men in the U.S., when, and was given to the British Prime Minister, who later became the first Marquess of Lansdowne. It was a gift of appreciation, as he had supported the independence of the colonies the in Parliament and he succeeded in securing peace with America during his term as Prime Minister of Great Britain. In 2001, it was purchased for $20 million and returned to the U.S.
The painting is full of ancient and contemporary symbolism, including:
- An outstretched hand-held up with oratorical symbolism.
- A row of Doric columns referring to ancient republics and democracies.
- Washington’s black velvet suit is not ornate and not royal.
- The sword he holds on his left side is a dress sword and not a battle sword, symbolising a democratic form of government, and not a monarchy or military dictatorship.
- In the sky, storm clouds appear on the left while a rainbow appears on the right, signifying that war was giving way to the peace and prosperity.
- The medallion at the top of the chair shows the colours of the American flag.
- On the table are books referring to the Federalist Papers and Journal of Congress.
- Another set of books are under the table. The three to the right are General Orders, American Revolution, and Constitutional By-laws, symbolising Washington’s leadership as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and president of the Constitutional Convention.
- The pen and paper on the table signify the rule of law.
- The table’s leg is shaped like a fasces, an ancient Roman symbol of power and authority or imperium.
- On the far left of the table is a silver inkwell, emblazoned with George Washington’s coat of arms.
- A white quill rests upon silver dogs, ancient symbols of loyalty.
Gilbert Stuart is considered one of America’s foremost portraitist. His best-known work is the unfinished portrait of George Washington that is sometimes called The Athenaeum. His image of George Washington featured in the painting has appeared on the United States one-dollar bill for more than a century and on various U.S. postage stamps.
Exploring George Washington in Art
- George Washington’s War Tent
- “George Washington” Lansdowne Portrait by Gilbert Stuart
- “George Washington”, The Athenaeum Portrait by Gilbert Stuart
- “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze
- “The March to Valley Forge” by William B. T. Trego
- “George Washington” by Horatio Greenough
George Washington, Lansdowne Portrait
- Title: George Washington, Lansdowne Portrait
- Artist: Gilbert Stuart
- Year: 1796
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions: 247.6 × 158.7 cm (97.5 × 62.5 in)
- Museum: National Portrait Gallery
Gilbert Charles Stewart
- Name: Gilbert Charles Stewart
- Born: 1755 – Saunderstown, Rhode Island Colony, British America
- Died: 1828 (aged 72) – Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
- Nationality: American
- Notable works:
- George Washington (The Athenaeum Portrait) (1796)
- George Washington (Lansdowne portrait) (1796)
- George Washington (Vaughan Portrait) (1795)
- John Adams (1824)
“Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.”
– George Washington
Photo Credit: 1)Gilbert Stuart [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons