Early Wash­ing­ton por­trait finds its way back home

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Nation & World - By Michael E. Ruane

Der­mot Rooney, left, and David Sch­laegel pre­pare to put up the early Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton por­trait Thurs­day in Mount Ver­non, Va. It’s on loan from Wash­ing­ton and Lee Univer­sity.

Young Col. Wash­ing­ton came home to Mount Ver­non, Va., packed in a foam­lined wooden box that was fas­tened with 14 screws and la­beled “keep dry.”

He had been away for 216 years, but in­side his gilded frame he still looked sol­dierly in his red waist­coat and pale sash. Around his neck he wore a sil­ver of­fi­cer’s pen­dant, marked with the Bri­tish royal coat of arms.

And his face was that of a con­fi­dent man, ac­cus­tomed to com­mand.

This was the youth­ful Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton painted in his 40s by the artist Charles Will­son Peale. The fa­mous por­trait re­turned to dis­play at Mount Ver­non last week for the first time since 1802.

Here was not the dour, white-haired fig­ure on the dol­lar bill, nor the black­clad older man with bad dentures de­picted in other por­traits.

This was the ear­li­est known paint­ing of the coun­try’s first pres­i­dent and the man who would lead the Colo­nial forces to vic­tory in the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War.

The paint­ing,“Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton as Colonel in the Vir­ginia Reg­i­ment,” was un­crated and hung with care in Mount Ver­non’s Don­ald W. Reynolds Mu­seum and Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter, where it opened to the pub­lic Thurs­day.

It will be on dis­play for the next two years.

“We al­ways mourn (Mount Ver­non pieces) that got away,” said Su­san Schoel­wer, Mount Ver­non’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for his­toric preser­va­tion and col­lec­tions.

Now one is back. “It’s ab­so­lutely thrilling to be able to ex­pe­ri­ence the young Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton in­stead of the bat­tle-worn Wash­ing­ton,” she said. “It’s the only like­ness that we have of him de­pict­ing his ap­pear­ance prior to the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War.”

The paint­ing is on loan from Wash­ing­ton and Lee Univer­sity.

In Oc­to­ber, the univer­sity, grap­pling with is com­plex his­tory, de­cided to re­place paint­ings of Wash­ing­ton and Con­fed­er­ate Gen. Robert E. Lee in mil­i­tary garb with de­pic­tions of the men in civil­ian clothes.

Mount Ver­non has loaned the univer­sity its Gil­bert Stu­art por­trait of an older Wash­ing­ton not in uni­form.

In May 1772, the An­napo­lis, Md.-based Peale vis­ited Mount Ver­non and was asked by Wash­ing­ton’s wife, Martha, to paint her hus­band’s por­trait.

Wash­ing­ton sat for Peale over three days and paid the artist about 18 pounds — ap­prox­i­mately $2,700 in to­day’s money, ac­cord­ing to a Univer­sity of Wyoming cur­rency cal­cu­la­tor.

Peale painted Wash­ing­ton in the garb of a colonel of the Vir­ginia Reg­i­ment, which Wash­ing­ton had com­manded from 1755 to 1758 dur­ing the French and In­dian War, ac­cord­ing to Mount Ver­non

The oil paint­ing is 60 inches tall and 50 inches wide.

“He looks com­mand­ing, as you would ex­pect an of­fi­cer,” Schoel­wer said. “He looks trust­wor­thy.”


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