The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will conserve its iconic “Lansdowne” portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart beginning in March 2016. The painting will be off view for a period of 18 months.
The Lansdowne has been on view since the museum opened in 1968; it was on long-term loan before the Portrait Gallery acquired the portrait in 2001 through the generosity of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. This artwork serves as the centerpiece of the Portrait Gallery’s permanent exhibition “America’s Presidents.” More than 1.2 million visitors view the artwork annually, and it remains a treasure of the American people.
Now 220 years old, the Lansdowne is in need of conservation treatment in order to recapture how it was originally meant to be viewed. The painting, which has been treated in the past, is in stable condition; however, a yellowed varnish coating currently disguises the portrait’s original brilliance. The Lansdowne will be closely analyzed using ultraviolet light, infrared reflectography and X-rays to reveal information about materials and painting techniques, as well as to help determine a treatment process.
These various forms of analysis will reveal different aspects of the painting’s structure. Ultraviolet light discloses information about the varnish surface and areas of previous retouching. Infrared light analysis, which can penetrate the top layers of the painting, is helpful in identifying the presence of underdrawing. X-rays will reveal information about the entire painting’s structure, as well as artist materials, techniques and compositional changes.
The painting’s conservation is being funded by Bank of America.
The Portrait Gallery has 146 portraits of George Washington in its collection.