W&L, Mount Vernon announce mutual loan of two storied portraits of George Washington
Washington and Lee University will lend its notable portrait of “George Washington as Colonel in the Virginia Regiment” by Charles Willson Peale to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, where it will hang in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center for the next two years.
The painting is the first of seven portraits of Washington made from life by Peale, and the only portrait of Washington that predates the American Revolution. It was commissioned by Martha Washington and painted in May 1772 at Mount Vernon, where it hung in the Front Parlor along with portraits by John Wollaston of Martha and her children.
In exchange for the Peale portrait, Mount Vernon will loan Washington and Lee its original portrait by Gilbert Stuart, which will hang in the auditorium of the university’s Lee Chapel. The portrait, which was painted during the second term of Washington’s presidency, is a replica by Stuart of his iconic original portrait known as the “Athenaeum” version, now owned jointly by the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It is arguably the most publicly recognized image of Washington because it appears on the U.S. $1 bill.
Martha Washington commissioned portraits of herself and her husband from Stuart in 1796 but never received them despite frequent requests. Stuart kept them unfinished as sources for his roughly 75 replicas.
The same year Washington sat for Stuart’s “Athenaeum” portrait, he saved the struggling Liberty Hall Academy — W&L’s predecessor — when he gave the school $20,000 worth of James River Canal stock. The trustees promptly renamed the school Washington Academy, as an expression of their gratitude.
Mount Vernon’s portrait by Stuart was painted in about 1798 and is one of the finest of Stuart’s replicas. Landscape artist George Beck of Philadelphia purchased it directly from Stuart. After it passed through several families in Kentucky, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association received it as a gift in 1904.
“We are delighted about the opportunities that this exchange presents,” said Washington and Lee President William C. Dudley. “Bringing the Stuart portrait to our campus allows us to better tell the story of George Washington’s pivotal gift to the university while simultaneously expanding the audience for the Peale portrait, which is truly one of a kind. We are grateful to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association for its partnership and look forward to continued collaboration as we seek to tell the many stories of Washington and Lee’s history.”
“We are honored to welcome home such an important portrait, which was painted here, and displayed at Mount Vernon throughout the life of George and Martha Washington,” said Doug Bradburn, president & CEO of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. “Visitors from around the world will get a chance to see George Washington in the vigor of youth, before the years of toil and sacrifice had aged him, and I believe it will inspire millions to connect with and learn from the lessons of the past. We thank Washington and Lee for its continued partnership in education, and sharing in our mission to tell the story of the father of our country.”
The loan is temporary and will initially last two years, with the option to renew. In the meantime, the university is currently in the process of hiring a director of institutional history who will oversee the planning, development and construction of a new university museum, where the Peale portrait will return to take a place of honor.