The then seventeen–year–old artist Rembrandt Peale painted George Washington from life in 1795, thanks to the intervention of his father, artist Charles Willson Peale. As he remembered later about the seven a.m. appointment with the president,"I was up before daylight and putting everything in the best condition for the sitting with which I was to be honored, but before the hour arrived became so agitated that I could scarcely mix my colors."
In 1823, long after Washington's death and in response to the enduring popularity of Gilbert Stuart's portrait of the president, Peale revised his original portrait into the present composition, which exists in over seventy examples. Peale idealized Washington's features according to fashionable theories of physiognomy, in which facial proportions acted as signs of character or nobility. He also set the bust of the president into a fictive oval opening recalling both antique sculpture and Renaissance and Baroque state portraiture, perhaps angling for display in the neoclassical interiors of the nation's new Capitol Building.