Charles Willson Peale, American (1741–1827)
Oil on canvas
Charles Willson Peale's George Washington at Princeton is on view at the Museum on an extended loan from a private collection. This visually striking and finely executed life-size portrait records Washington's 6-foot-2-inch frame in a pose projecting strength, composure, and elegance. It is installed adjacent to the Powel House parlor, a period room from one of Philadelphia's greatest eighteenth-century private homes, where Washington was frequently entertained by his friends, Samuel and Elizabeth Powel. Both spaces contain important examples of furniture by Philadelphia's finest craftsmen, such as Thomas Affleck and John Aitken. Among these is a side chair commissioned by the Washingtons during their Philadelphia residence, as well as porcelain from their dining service.
Painted in Philadelphia in 1779, Peale's painting was immediately sent to Europe to boost Washington's reputation as a leader and promote the cause of the American Revolution, then in progress. Later, during Europe's Napoleonic Wars, a Spanish duke with strong democratic sympathies owned the picture. At that time he added the ornate carved inscription to its frame, which describes Washington as "a liberator of his country who renounced absolute power."