A Portrait of George Washington: The Man, The Soldier, and The President

Taubman Museum of Art
February 6 – July 31, 2016

Considered a revolutionary hero by generations, George Washington (American, 1732-1799) was also a man of deep personal integrity, honor, and patriotism. Culled from a private collection and major loans from other museums and institutions, “A Portrait of George Washington: The Man, The Soldier, and The President” tells the story of his multi-faceted nature through important personal
effects, art, and historic objects. Great public attention has been paid to our first United States President, founding father, and national treasure, George Washington. But in many ways he is still a mystery. Who was he really? Washington was a soldier and war strategist, a surveyor, a husband, a farmer, and a President. Throughout the ages, Washington is still considered our most popular President, having his portrait painted a record number of times. In fact, artists Rembrandt Peale and Charles Willson Peale painted his portrait over 100 times. Washington’s intellect, patriotism, and high moral character provided a strong precedent for leadership that has been used throughout the decades.

Hallmark works in the exhibition that depict Washington as a solider include an important painting by Charles Willson Peale of Washington in uniform at the battle of Yorktown flanked by exquisite scenes depicting both the siege and surrender of Yorktown to Washington painted by French artist Louise
Nicholas Van Blarenberghe. Personal effects include the map of Yorktown as well as his portfolio and dispatch case that Washington carried throughout the war. Washington’s surveyor compass and a painting of him in his youth during his time surveying the Virginia frontier are presented with objects from his Presidency (1789-1797) including a medallion from his presidential coach, and a sword that he wore during ceremonial events. A delicate miniature portrait of George Washington painted on ivory by Irish artist John Ramage, the first artist to portray him while he was serving as the President of the United States, presents Washington wearing military dress while framed on the back of the portrait is a lock of his hair. The portrait commissioned by Washington was given to his wife, the first lady Martha Dandridge Custis Washington. Likewise, his nuptials to Martha were documented in a large-scale sentimental painting by Junius Brutus Stearns, “The Marriage of Washington
to Martha Custis,” 1849. Objects used for entertaining by the Washingtons at the war’s front line and at Mount Vernon include a silver wine cooler, crystal decanter, and porcelain ware from their presidential serving sets. A letter denoting Washington’s desire to bequeath Mount Vernon to his nephew George Augustine Washington from October 25, 1786 and a nostalgic painting of Washington entertaining at Mount Vernon present vignettes of his family life.

Presented together, these objects and artworks give valuable clues to Washington’s nature and provide an important historic portrait of his leadership attributes. “A Portrait of George Washington: the Man, the Soldier, and the President” provides a unique opportunity to engage the region in the history of our nation’s remembrance of George Washington while unveiling his heroic nature that helped shape our American values still being emulated today. “A Portrait of George Washington: The Man, The Soldier, and The President” was curated by Amy G. Moorefield, Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Collections of the Taubman Museum of Art. This exhibition was made possible by generous loans from George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Virginia Tech Foundation Inc, and a private collection. Exhibition and educational support has been provided in part by the City of Roanoke through its Arts Commission, Arkay Packaging, and Member One Federal Credit Union.

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