Historical Highlights

Artist Gilbert Stuart’s Portraits of George Washington

April 12, 1796
Artist Gilbert Stuart’s Portraits of George Washington Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
On this date, President George Washington posed for artist Gilbert Stuart for the famous Lansdowne portrait, the basis for two of the first chief executive’s portraits in the U.S. Capitol. Stuart was the foremost portrait painter in the United States at the time, and Washington posed for him for four separate portraits. The resulting paintings became the standard images of Washington. Stuart’s Lansdowne likeness was successful, but not flawless. Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis claimed that the face “is incomparably the best likeness of the Chief in his latter days, but in the person, that great Master of Portrait Painting failed entirely.” When important sitters posed for the artist, great attention would be given to the individual’s face and hands, but the body was most often based on a more readily available model. Whomever Stuart used for Washington’s body was plumper and fleshier than Washington, according to his grandson. Stuart remedied this discrepancy in a portrait he did in 1800, which is now called the Munro-Lenox portrait, named after its early owners Peter Jay Munro and James Lenox. An 1818 copy of the Lansdowne portrait by a Stuart follower hangs in the Rayburn Room in the Capitol. The House’s version of the Munro-Lenox by John Vanderlyn was first hung in the Old House Chamber in 1834, and then in the current House Chamber in 1857. The setting for the image is almost identical to that in the Lansdowne, including furniture with decorative elements from the Great Seal of the United States.

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