By Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery
A National Treasure
As a military and political figure, George Washington was a unifying force during the country’s formative years. Not surprisingly, George Washington is by far the most well-represented president in the National Portrait Gallery's presidential collection. The most iconic image is the Lansdowne Portrait, painted from life by Gilbert Stuart in 1796.
Gilbert Stuart (c. 1825) by Sarah GoodridgeSmithsonian's National Portrait Gallery
Gilbert Stuart was one of America's most talented portrait artists at the time. He painted Washington during his second term in office. Stuart was commissioned by Pennsylvania Senator William Bingham and his wife, Anne, to provide a gift to English statesman William Petty, first Marquis of Lansdowne, who as prime minister had negotiated the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783.
George Washington (Lansdowne Portrait) (1796) by Gilbert StuartSmithsonian's National Portrait Gallery
Gilbert Stuart drew from European traditions of state portraiture to evoke Washington’s military and civic leadership. The pose Stuart chose for the president is believed to allude to Washington’s annual address in front of Congress in December 1795.
The artist surrounded Washington with symbols of American democracy, such as an embedded flag in the frame of his chair.
The table's legs are adorned with American eagles.
The books below the table refer to Washington’s roles as commander of the American army and as president of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. They are titled General Orders, American Revolution, and Constitution & Laws of the United States.
The books on the table document the new nation. They are titled Federalist—referring to The Federalist Papers that John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton wrote in 1787–88—and the Journal of Congress, which recorded the everyday actions and votes of Congress.
The ornate chair and table, the columns, and the curtain, while fictional, represent the hall of Congress.
A rainbow in the background, breaking through a stormy sky, symbolizes peace and prosperity after the American Revolution.
Washington bears an ornamental sword as an emblem of his role in winning the American Revolution and as commander in chief.
Its success as a presidential image was immediate. As the only full-length portrait that depicts Washington as president rather than as a general, the image was much admired by political supporters, who commissioned versions for themselves.
Today, the iconic image remains a national treasure to the American people.
The Landsdowne serves as the centerpiece of the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent exhibition, America's Presidents.
The nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House, this exhibition lies at the heart of the Portrait Gallery’s mission to tell the American story through the individuals who have shaped it.