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George Washington

3 of 22 portraits of George Washington

George Washington, by Gilbert Stuart, probably 19th century, based on a work of 1796 -NPG 2041 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

George Washington

by Gilbert Stuart
probably 19th century, based on a work of 1796
28 3/4 in. x 23 3/4 in. (730 mm x 603 mm)
NPG 2041

This portraitback to top

Stuart returned to America from London in 1793, resolved to make a fortune through ‘a plurality of portraits’ of Washington. Private inadequacies prevented him making a fortune, but his portraits of the President were acclaimed. ‘Mr Stewart is justly celebrated as the greatest painter of the age’, enthused the New York Time Piece, 5 February 1798, ‘and Washington is his hobby-horse’; twenty-five years later it was being said that ‘the only idea we now have of George Washington, is associated with Stuart’s Washington’. [1] It appears that he only received two sets of sittings in 1795 and 1796, but from these four patterns of Washington portrait derived:
the ‘Vaughan’ half-length portrait of 1795 (National Gallery Washington)
the ‘Athenaeum’ portrait of 1796, a fine head on an unfinished three-quarter length canvas (jointly owned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass., and the NPG Washington) - the ultimate portrait of Washington (canonised on postage stamps and dollar bills and which, for different reasons, Stuart termed his hundred-dollar bill)
the ‘Lansdowne’ or ‘Tea Pot’ portrait of 1796, the Athenaeum head on a whole-length standing figure, feet apart and right hand extended (NPG Washington), painted at the behest of Mrs William Bingham for the Marquess of Lansdowne
the ‘Munro-Lenox’ portrait of 1800, the Athenaeum head on a whole-length standing figure, heels together and his right hand resting on a table (New York Public Library)
the ‘Washington at Dorchester heights’ of 1806, the Athenaeum head on a whole-length standing figure, standing by a white horse (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass.).
NPG 2041 is an example of the Athenaeum pattern, of which some seventy half-length replicas have been recorded. [2] Three types have been distinguished within this pattern: type A with a short head; type B with smaller eyes and longer lips, and type C with a more pointed chin and darker eyes [3] -- of which NPG 2041 is an example. The provenance suggests an early 19th century date. General Pinckney, the first owner of NPG 2041, had previously commissioned a whole-length portrait of Washington for presentation to the French Directory on his appointment as American minister in Paris in 1796; he never received it and it is now in the White House. [4]

Footnotesback to top

1) See D. Evans, The Genius of Gilbert Stuart, 1999, pp 60-73.
2) See J. H. Morgan & M. Fielding, The Life Portraits of Washington, 1931, pp 273-311, 324-46. C. H. Hart, Catalogue of the Engraved Portraits of Washington, 1904, nos.345-700, lists 355 engravings of the Athenaeum type. Stuart once said apropos of Washington copies that if ‘the General had sat for all these portraits he could have done nothing else; our Independence would have been a secondary matter’ (D. Evans, The Genius of Gilbert Stuart, 1999, pp 86, 88).
3) J. H. Morgan & M. Fielding, The Life Portraits of Washington, 1931, pp 240-47.
4) An irregular saga, for which see, for example, C. M. Mount, Gilbert Stuart, 1964, pp 216, 263, 353.

Referenceback to top

Fielding 1923
M. Fielding, Gilbert Stuart’s Portraits of George Washington, 1923, p 191, no.70.

Morgan & Fielding 1931
J. H. Morgan & M. Fielding, The Life Portraits of Washington, 1931, p 294, no.70.

Park 1926
L. Park, Gilbert Stuart, 1926, no.70 (as c.1797).

Physical descriptionback to top

Blue eyes, powdered hair tied with a black ribbon, black coat, white neckcloth.

Provenanceback to top

Gen. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (d. 1825) of Philadelphia; bequeathed by his daughter, Harriott Pinckney (d. 1866), to his nephew, Rev C. C. Pinckney (d. 1898); bought by Justice Horace Gray, Boston, Mass., 1869;1 sold by his widow 1924 through Knoedler NY, to Edward S. Harkness, New York, by whom presented 1924.2

1 This provenance is given in letters from C. C. Pinckney of 2 September 1868 and 25 May 1869 (NPG archive). E. Bryant Johnston, Original Portraits of Washington, 1882, p 100, noted the claim that NPG 2041 had been presented by Washington to General Pinckney.
2 Harkness wrote from New York on 2 July 1924 saying that having seen a portrait of Washington in the NPG ‘attributed to Gilbert Stuart’ [NPG 774], he felt that the Gallery would prefer to have a portrait by Stuart himself (NPG archive).

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, National Portrait Gallery, 2004, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

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