The Big 3: The Artists Who Made Washington

The artists that portrayed Washington are more important in the story of Washington's image than the president himself, and the answer to why George Washington's image matters is as complicated and diverse as the artists themselves. The type of portraiture that would have been familiar to Washington at the time would have been the British style, and in hiring American artists to paint his portrait, there is certainly a patriotic message to be noticed. The American-born artists Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull, and Charles Willson Peale are known because their portraits of Washington are the most famous, even in their own time. Their relationship with Washington also matters, and exploring their individual lives and correspondence with the president will shed some much needed contextual light on those imfamous portraits of Washington. 

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.