The "Lansdowne Portrait"
As more and more portraits were painted of him, GW became increasingly
reluctant to sit for them. This portrait is clearly supposed to feature
Washington in his role as leader of the new country. Some art historians
and historians interpret the message as GW as "president," but
others regard the pose as more monarchical. In either case, it was part
of the debate over the appropriate public image for the new American presidency.
GW's pose is reminiscent of portraits of European monarchs. Stuart had
spent eighteen years in England and Ireland and was very familiar with
traditions in portraiture there.
As for symbols within the painting, the rainbow can be a sign of a fresh
start for the country with GW's presidency, the books feature topics related
to the new country, and the furniture bears the insignia of the United
Some art historians have criticized the anatomical proportion of GW in
the Lansdowne portrait, which was "corrected" in later versions.
For more information, see:
Miles, Ellen G., with a preface by Edmund S. Morgan. George and Martha
Washington: Portraits from the Presidential Years. Smithsonian Institution,
National Portrait Gallery Washington, DC, in association with the University
Press of Virginia, Charlottesville and London, 1999.
Rasmussen, William M.S., and Robert Tilton. George Washington: The
Man Behind the Myths. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia
See other Washington portraits in our Maps
& Portraits section of The Papers of George Washington web site.
The Smithsonian Institution
The National Portrait