George Washington at Princeton

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

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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.

Charles Willson Peale and Portraiture during the Revolutionary Period

Charles Willson Peale was born in Chester, Maryland. Peale received his first painting lessons from John Hesselius and later, he studied with Benjamin West in London. He settled in Philadelphia after serving in the Continental Army from 1775-1778. Numerous revolutionary heroes, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, sat for his portraits. Peale married three times and fathered seventeen children, some of whom became important artists, including his sons Raphaelle, James, Rembrandt, Rubens, Franklin, and Titian Ramsay Peale. This dynasty of painters produced portraits, still lifes, and landscape paintings. Peale was not only one of the country’s foremost artists, but he 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 trained under his uncle, and he earned a living as a portraitist and commercial sign painter. He specialized in portraits of notable military and political figures. Polk often copied these portraits to sell for additional income. He also made over fifty copies after Peale’s portrait of George Washington.

The execution of George Washington at Princeton was likely a collaborative endeavor with the senior artist responsible for the sitter’s head and chest only. Washington’s dignified appearance bears resemblance 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 with little variation.

Crocker, Linda. Charles Peale Polk 1786-1882: A Limner and His Likenesses. Washington, D. C.: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1981.

Richardson, Edgar. Charles Willson Peale and his World. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1983.

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

Object Information

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

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