© 2011 Brett H Runion. All rights reserved. The Georges

Portraits of George Washington

George Washington’s (1732 -1799) likeness was put to canvas hundreds of times during his life time and probably thousands after. It is amazing with the number of paintings, one would think we know exactly what George Washington looked like, the man on the dollar bill. However, I have come to the conclusion after hours of research and months of painting that we really do not have an exact likeness of our first president on canvas. However sometime before 1874 Jean Antoine Houdon was commissioned to make a sculpture of Washington.   To do this he made a “life mask” from plaster. To this day it remains the standard of Washington’s likeness. Therefore, in my humble opinion, the photo (see below) of the “life mask” does not match any of the paintings to my satisfaction.

General Washington Life Mask
French court sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon casts a life mask of General Washington.

The most famous is the dollar bill  portrait which is copied from one of Gilbert Stewart’s portraits of Washington. Steward painted most of the well known portraits of Washington. Steward painted well over a hundred portraits of Washington himself. The “Athenaeum” which has become the standard there at least 70 copies. Yet even Gilberts painting of the president’s vary as seen below. One interesting note, in “The Athenaeum Portrait”, George has no eye brows or eye lashes, possibly not even noticed by the reader.

George Washington (The Athenaeum Portrait), 1796, Gilbert Stuart

Patriae Pater of Washington, 1823, Rembrandt Peale
Patriae Pater of Washington, 1823, Rembrandt Peale
George Washington 1795, Gilbert Stuart, Metropolitan Museum Of Art, Manhattan, NY

Taking this all in I went with the “Athenaeum” version as my model and the dollar bills portrait’s hair. Hair is the hardest thing to draw much less paint! The decision was basically made because when people look at the painting I want them to instantly know who they are looking at which hopefully leads them to ask what is he doing?

Read more about the work of Providence in George Washington’s life (select the next post below):

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