May 1, 2013
Edward Savage’s career was defined by his relationship to George Washington, argues Lydia Mattice Brandt, assistant professor of art history at the University of South Carolina. Remarkably, Savage “painted at least seven portraits of Washington and two of Martha Washington,” including the famed 1798 portrait The Washington Family, the only contemporary painting that showed Washington at Mount Vernon.
As described by Brandt, “By depicting Washington dressed in his military uniform surrounded by his family and with his hand resting on evidence of his greatest presidential achievement, The Washington Family echoes the comparison between Washington and the Roman general Cincinnatus so familiar to late eighteenth-century Americans.” In addition to George Washington, the portrait also includes Martha Washington, Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis, and George Washington “Washy” Parke Custis congregated around a table at Mount Vernon. Behind the family is an enslaved servant believed to be Washington’s valet, Christopher Sheels.
Savage also famously painted two small canvases of the east and west fronts of the Mount Vernon mansion. These canvases “are the earliest known images of the plantation, were widely exhibited during Savage’s lifetime, and most likely inspired a host of other early views.”
Adam D. Shprintzen, Ph.D.
Editor, Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington
Category: Digital Encyclopedia