The Portraits

Staff member working in collections and putting a painting away

George Washington (The Athenaeum Portrait)

Artist
Gilbert Stuart, 3 Dec 1755 - 9 Jul 1828
Sitter
George Washington, 22 Feb 1732 - 14 Dec 1799
Date
1796
Type
Painting
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
121.9cm x 94cm (48" x 37"), Accurate
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; owned jointly with Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Object number
NPG.80.115
Exhibition Label
Gilbert Stuart first painted George Washington in 1795 (in a work now known only from copies). That painting was so successful that, according to artist Rembrandt Peale, Martha Washington “wished a Portrait for herself.” She persuaded her husband to sit again for Stuart “on the express condition that when finished it should be hers.” Stuart, however, did not want to part with the picture and left it unfinished so that he could refer to it when producing future commissions. Known as the “Athenaeum” portrait because it went to the Boston Athenaeum after Stuart’s death, this painting served as the basis for the engraving of Washington that appears on the one-dollar bill. John Neal, an early-nineteenth-century writer and art critic, wrote, “Though a better likeness of him were shown to us, we should reject it; for, the only idea that we now have of George Washington, is associated with Stuart’s Washington.”
Gilbert Stuart pintó a George Washington por primera vez en 1795, aunque dicha obra ahora solo se conoce por copias. La pintura tuvo tanto éxito que, según el artista Rembrandt Peale, Martha Washington “deseaba un retrato para ella”. Fue así que convenció a su esposo de que posara de nuevo para Stuart “con la condición expresa de que la pintura sería de ella cuando la terminara”. Sin embargo, Stuart no quiso desprenderse de la obra y la dejó inconclusa para poder usarla de referencia en encargos futuros. Conocida como el retrato del “Ateneo” debido a que pasó al Ateneo de Boston al morir Stuart, esta pintura fue la base para el grabado de Washington que aparece en el billete de un dólar. John Neal, escritor y crítico de arte de principios del siglo XIX, escribió: “Aun si nos mostraran un mejor retrato suyo, tendríamos que rechazarlo, pues la única idea que tenemos hoy de George Washington está vinculada con el Washington pintado por Stuart”.
Provenance
The artist; his daughter Jane Stuart; purchased in May, 1831, by the Trustees of the Boston Athenaeum with funds raised by subscription from the Washington Monument Association and 22 additional subscribers; purchased 1980 jointly by NPG and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection
Exhibition
America's Presidents (Reinstallation September 2017)
On View
NPG, South Gallery 240