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Comparison Of Painting Of George Washington By Gilbert Stuart And Charles Willson Peale

838 words - 4 pages

On Saturday, March 15, 2014, I visited the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The gallery #753, which is a part of so-called American Wing, features oil paintings of the revolutionary period in America. The paintings seen in this gallery celebrate heroes and hard-fought battles of the new nation. The most popular type of painting of that time remained portraiture. Portraits in extremely large numbers figured in interiors, where they were arranged to convey not only domestic, but political messages as well. Hence, it is natural, that such iconic figure like George Washington became a model for numerous artists of that era, including Gilbert Stuart and Charles Willson Peale, for whom Washington actually sat. Two exceptional portraits of Washington, the general and the the first President of the United States are highlighted in this paper.
Charles Willson Peale was an artist, inventor, scientist and writer and a great friend of George Washington. During the revolutionary war, he participated in the battles at Trenton and Princeton and was made a captain (Luhrs 116). In 1779, since the war was almost ended, Peale was commissioned to paint a full-length portrait of George Washington for he meeting room of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (Barratt 25). The elegant and informal image portrayed the general at the site of his triumph. The tall confident figure of Washington stands in a relaxed position with one hand resting on a cannon, which symbollizes the victory that is being celebrated, as do the captured Hessian flags that lie at his feet.
The painting was so popular, that he made its numerous versions with sightliest differences. The version presented in Metropolitan Museum, descended through the family of the general. It was probably ordered by Martha Washington (Salinger 36), who may have requested to replace the original Princeton setting with Trenton, New Jersey, where Washington fought the battle (Barratt 25). As Seller notes, this painting "seems to have been painted for someone who preferred to memorialize that famous Christmas night, rather the culminating and strategically more brilliant action at Princeton" (Seller 153). Peale made a trip to the Trenton and Princeton battlefields to sketch appropriate and authentic background scenes (Sellers 169). Another difference from other versions of this painting is that instead of his heavy battle sword, which he wore throughout his active service, Washington wears an elegant rapier, known as a "dress sword", reserved for formal occasions (Sellers 147). Peale had also changed military insignia, since...

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