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Archive for the ‘Washington Portraits’ Category

May 17, 2013

I Spy… a Spyglass!


When George Washington died in 1799, the inventory of Mount Vernon listed twelve spyglasses in the house: eleven in Washington’s study and one in the Central Passage. Why did Washington accumulate so many spyglasses?

Washington had numerous occasions to use a spyglass (or handheld telescope) over the course of his life. As Commander-in-Chief during the Revolution, he depended on the devices to monitor troop movements and the landscape. Military portraits of Washington during the American Revolution, such as John Trumball’s 1790 painting, often depict him holding or carrying a spyglass.

George Washington before the Battle of Trenton, by John Trumbull, ca. 1792-94. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

George Washington before the Battle of Trenton, by John Trumbull, ca. 1792-94. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

At Mount Vernon, Washington used a telescope to observe ships sailing by on the busy Potomac River. Benjamin Latrobe’s 1796 watercolor of the Washingtons and guests enjoying coffee on the piazza depicts an unidentified man (possibly Latrobe himself) peering through a spyglass at the vessels dotting the Potomac below.

Detail of man with spyglass.

Detail of man with spyglass.

View of Mount Vernon with the Washington Family on the Piazza, July 16, 1796, by Benjamin Henry Latrobe.

View of Mount Vernon with the Washington Family on the Piazza, July 16, 1796, by Benjamin Henry Latrobe.

Most handheld telescopes in the eighteenth century were imported from England. They consisted of glass lenses mounted in a cylindrical case of wood, brass, or a combination of the two. The Mount Vernon collection includes several spyglasses with a Washington history, some of which surely helped George gain a new perspective on his surroundings.

Stay tuned for a post from our Collections Management staff on a creating a custom box for one of these spyglasses!

Jessie MacLeod
Assistant Curator
Historic Preservation & Collections

Continue reading I Spy… a Spyglass! »

Category: Classroom Connections, Mount Vernon, Object Spotlight, Washington Portraits

March 14, 2013

Object Spotlight: How many times did George Washington sit for his portrait?


George Washington may be the most recognizable figure in American history. You’ve probably seen many different portraits of him–in fact, there are hundreds! But what you may not know is Washington didn’t pose for each portrait himself. So, how many times did Washington sit for an artist to take his likeness?

Portrait sittings were not always recorded, so we can’t be certain, but after combing through diaries, letters, and other documentary evidence, historian David Meschutt found that Washington posed at least 32 times for 19 different artists between 1772 and 1798. As the numbers suggest, Washington sometimes sat for the same artist multiple times.

He was portrayed by these 19 artists in a variety of forms, including oil paintings, drawings, pastels, watercolor miniatures, and clay sculpture. Among the most recognizable artists Washington sat for were Jean-Antoine Houdon, Edward Savage, John Trumbull, and Gilbert Stuart.

Artists often made copies of their own work, and of the works of others, which accounts for the numerous Washington portraits that exist. Gilbert Stuart alone made as many as 75 copies of his famous “Athenaeum” portrait (better known as the portrait featured on the $1 bill).

One of Stuart's many copies of his Athenaeum portrait, which Washington posed for in 1796.

One of Stuart’s many copies of his Athenaeum portrait, which Washington posed for in 1796.

Despite his prominent status as General of the Continental Army and First President of the United States, Washington did not enjoy having his portrait taken. On May 21, 1772, a day after he sat for Charles Willson Peale, Washington wrote to his friend Jonathan Boucher:

Inclination having yielded to Importunity, I am now, contrary to all expectation under the hands of Mr Peale; but in so grave–so sullen a Mood–and now and then under the influence of Morpheus, when some critical strokes are making, that I fancy the skill of this Gentleman’s Pencil, will be put to it, in describing to the World what manner of Man I am.

Morpheus is the Greek god of dreams–and it seems Washington was on the verge of falling asleep during his portrait sitting!

Jessie MacLeod
Assistant Curator
Department of Historic Preservation and Collections

For more details on Washington’s life portraits, see David Meschutt, “Life Portraits of George Washington,” in Barbara J. Mitnick, ed., George Washington: American Symbol (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1999), pp. 25-37.

Continue reading Object Spotlight: How many times did George Washington sit for his portrait? »

Category: Classroom Connections, George Washington, Object Spotlight, Washington Portraits

October 14, 2010

Two Big Mount Vernon Hits Combine


The Mount Vernon traveling exhibit “Discover the Real George Washington” plus our portrait project joined forces when George Washington portraits were presented to two different schools at the North Carolina Museum of History, where our traveling exhibit is currently hosted.

The portrait project, which invites K-12 schools nationwide to request a free framed portrait of George Washington, is proud to announce that Murphey Traditional Academy from Greensboro, N.C. and Moore Square Museums Magnet School from Raleigh, N.C. are a couple of our newest recipients.

Murphey Traditional Academy is a Title 1 magnet elementary school and a recipient of a travel grant to see the exhibit. Moore School is a middle school that partners with museums and cultural centers, giving students access to a multitude of resources. Perhaps not surprisingly, both are big fans of George Washington.

Category: Washington Portraits

August 23, 2010

Porthole Portrait: Does Your School Have One?


Rembrant Peale's famous painting of George Washington is shown in multiple=

Mount Vernon’s George Washington Portrait Project has brought Rembrandt Peale’s “Patriae Pater” porthole portrait of Washington into 4,783 schools since the program’s inception in winter 2007-2008, and your school could be next.

Continue reading Porthole Portrait: Does Your School Have One? »

Category: Washington Portraits

September 24, 2009

Is your Principal a Very Busy Person?


kidswithportrait.jpgSince we know how crazy things can get in the principal’s office at the beginning of the school year, we have decided to make lives easier! As you all know, your school can get a FREE oil painting of Rembrandt Peale’s “Porthole Portrait of George Washington” to hang in a highly visible place in your school building as well as our Celebration Kit chock full of lesson activities and a flag flown over Mount Vernon. All you had to do was have your principal write us a letter, right? Well now it’s even easier- print out the letter on this webpage, fill out the mailing and contact information, have your principal sign it, and drop it in the mail. Not to sound like an infomercial, but… How easy is that!?!

Category: Washington Portraits


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Portraits in Schools

Kids holding George Washington Portrait

Mount Vernon recently invited K-12 schools nationwide to request framed portraits of George Washington to display in a respectful, prominent place.

The response was overwhelming: thousands of schools submitted letters! Along with the portrait, schools received curriculum materials to help explore our first president’s contributions.

Where has George Washington gone back to school? Click here to see!

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