As the general who led us to victory in the American Revolution and as our first president, George Washington was often painted and sculpted. Everyone, it seemed, wanted the hero's portrait. But it is this portrait that stands for all time as the image that best represents what Washington meant to us when we were a new nation and continues to mean to us in the twenty-first century. It is the one picture that we can say ranks in importance with those sacred founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.We see Washington in 1796, the last year of his two-term presidency. Earlier full-length portraits show him in military uniform, but here he is in civilian dress, revealing that in our democracy the elected executive is the true commander-in-chief. Standing in elegant surroundings suggesting the grandeur of European tradition, Washington is nonetheless not draped like a king, which he refused to be; he is a man powerful only by the people's consent. This was the man who told us what this new kind of leader—an elected president—could be and whose maturity and resolve gave us confidence in our future. The rainbow behind him breaks through a stormy sky.Washington was lucky in his portraitist, and so are we. American-born Gilbert Stuart had eighteen years in Europe to hone his artistry. He was commissioned by Senator and Mrs. William Bingham of Pennsylvania to provide a gift to the Marquis of Lansdowne, an English supporter of American independence. It was copied by Stuart and others as THE image of Washington who sustains our national purpose-the Washington every generation of Americans needs to rediscover.Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828)


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