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George Washington

Rembrandt Peale1795

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

When Americans chose their first president under the new Constitution of 1788, George Washington's election was a foregone conclusion. But despite Washington's prestige, his presidency had its critics. Toward the end of his administration, one newspaper branded him a "scourge and misfortune." This portrait shows some of the stress that even our first president felt under the burden of the office. Even under attack, however, Washington's firm leadership gave credibility to the new federal government and assured its survivability.

Young Rembrandt Peale, then seventeen, was so nervous about painting Washington that his artist father, Charles Willson Peale, had to come along to the sittings to soothe his son's jangled nerves. The younger Peale made several replicas of his resulting portrait, including this version.

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