Portrait Miniature of George Washington by Charles Willson Peale
Portrait Miniature of George Washington by Charles Willson Peale

Portrait Miniature of George Washington by Charles Willson Peale

  • The great portraitist Charles Willson Peale composed this superb miniature of George Washington
  • Peale's images of the first President are among the most important American portraits ever composed
  • It is exceptionally rare to find a lifetime portrait of Washington by Peale on the market
  • Almost certainly ordered by Martha Washington, this miniature is a masterpiece of American art
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Item No. 30-8849
$1,250,000
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Charles Willson Peale's portrayals of George Washington as the commander of the Continental Army are among the most important early American portraits ever composed. This miniature portrait by Peale can be counted among these great masterpieces of American art. Almost certainly ordered by Martha Washington herself, this lifetime miniature brilliantly captures the bust of the then-Commander and future president in minute detail.

One of the three most important early American painters alongside Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley, Peale is celebrated for his portraits that captured authentic, straightforward likenesses of his subjects. Divested of their aristocratic character, Peale's portraits were among the first to establish a distinctly American style. George Washington in particular offered a compelling subject for the painter; he painted him a remarkable sevens time from life - more than any other painter and an impressive achievement considering the time constraints of the first president.

Such depictions were remarkably popular both during Washington's lifetime and after, when the president's iconic persona permeated American culture post-Revolution. Miniature portraits such as this found particular favor - his image in uniform came to symbolize the military victories of the United States, as well as the country's liberty and unity. However, to find a lifetime example by Peale, one of the greatest American painters of his generation, is exceptionally rare.

Accompanying the portrait miniature is a lock of hair from the head of the president. Once considered to be the "essence" of a person, locks of hair were treasured among family members and close friends, and they were often included in mourning pendants after one's death. The inclusion of a lock of Washington's hair with this miniature indicates it was once owned by a very close friend or family member of the president. Such remarkable relics are rarely found outside of museum collections.

Born in Maryland and establishing himself as a portraitist in Philadelphia, Charles Willson Peale left behind the most compelling visual record of the country's first president. He painted Washington numerous times throughout his career - for the first time as a colonel in 1772, and then as leader of the revolutionary movement, and eventually as the President of the newly formed United States. A political partisan, Peale himself joined the Pennsylvania militia, and as a lieutenant, he fought at the Battle of Princeton. During his service, he carried his miniature case with him, allowing him to paint his fellow officers - it is likely during this period that he painted the present portrait.

Circa 1778

3 3/8" high x 2 3/4" wide
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Period: 18th Century
Origin:America
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