George Washington is truly the creator of American culture. As Hugh Howard writes in “The Painter’s Chair,” Washington’s image has surprising power. In many ways, Washington created an American narrative that every citizen, past and present, is conscious of. Washington and Martha both had a polite support for the arts, especially of artists native to their new nation. It is their generous patronage, and the patronage of many other founding fathers, spurred the growth of a culture. Washington is among the few figures who are so historically important, that even they know it in their own time. The general certainly knew of his current and future fame, and reluctantly sat for portraits for the sake of his country.
Many artists portrayed many different versions of Washington, yet all of them seem to project the same man, and this is powerful. George Washington’s was that confident, that strong, strong enough to be read clearly by even the most diverse group of people. That begs the question, did Washington define himself? Or did the artists define Washington? The answer is both, as both Washington and the artists he befriended shaped his image with the knowledge that the meaning they created would continue on for as long as the country stood. And so, Washington quietly created his own narrative, and with the help of trusted artists, cemented the image he wanted to be remembered. We see what Washington wanted us to see, this is the most important takeaway.