George Washington at Princeton

Charles Willson Peale (American, 1741-1827)
Charles Peale Polk (American, 1767-1822)

Currently on View in K213
Image Licensing

Washington is elegantly attired in military garb holding his sword as a reference to his role as an officer.

This scene shows Washington at Princeton, New Jersey where the revolutionary army won a victory in 1777.

Curatorial Summary

Charles Willson Peale was born in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland. He began his career by apprenticing to a saddler and woodcarver in Annapolis and eventually went into the saddling trade. Peale took his first painting lessons from John Hesselius and then studied with Benjamin West in London. After serving in the Continental Army from 1775-1778, Peale settled in Philadelphia. He painted the portraits of numerous Revolutionary War heroes, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. Peale married three times and fathered 17 children, many of whom became important artists, including his sons Raphaelle, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Titian Ramsay Peale. This dynasty of painters produced portrait, still life, and landscape paintings. Besides being one of the country’s foremost American artists during the Revolutionary period, Peale was also a harness maker, upholsterer, watch and clock maker, sign painter, silversmith, scientist, inventor, taxidermist, and archeologist.

Charles Peale Polk was Peale’s orphaned nephew. Polk learned how to paint from his uncle and earned a living as a portrait artist and commercial sign painter. He specialized in portraits of revolutionary heroes that included George Washington, General Lafayette, and Benjamin Franklin. Polk often made copies of these portraits to sell and even copied his uncle’s painting of George Washington more than 50 times.

For George Washington at Princeton, Charles Willson Peale most likely painted the general’s head and chest, leaving the rest of the scene to his nephew and student, Charles Peale Polk. This was not an unusual practice for teacher and student at the time. Washington’s dignified self-assured appearance is very similar to Peale’s “Constitutional Convention” portrait painted from life in 1787, and on which a popular print was based. This scene, however, shows General Washington in his Continental Army uniform standing before Princeton, New Jersey, where the Revolutionary army won a victory in 1777. Polk repeated the Princeton portrait numerous times, always emphasizing the dark blue figure by means of the light green and pink background.

References

Richardson, Edgar P., Brook Hindle, and Lillian B. Miller. Charles Willson Peale and His World. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1983.

Simmons, Linda Crocker. Charles Peale Polk 1776- 1822: A Limner and His Likenesses. Washington, DC: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1981.

Jonathan Swift, Alexandria, Virginia | William Swift-Patten, Rhinebeck, New York

Object Information

artist
Charles Willson Peale (American, 1741-1827)
artist
Charles Peale Polk (American, 1767-1822)
creation date
about 1788
materials
oil on canvas
dimensions
32 x 29 in.
45-3/4 x 38-3/8 in. (framed)
accession number
53.64
credit line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas H. Noyes
copyright
Public Domain
collection
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945
colors

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