FRAME|WORK: George Washington by Rembrandt Peale

FRAME | WORK is a weekly blog series that highlights an artwork in the Museums' permanent collections. On Monday, the Museums were closed in observance of Presidents Day and today is the birthday of American painter Rembrandt Peale (1778–1860). In honor of these two occasions, we feature Peale’s iconic portrait of George Washington, which is currently on display in Gallery 27 at the de Young.

George Washington

Rembrandt Peale (American, 1778–1860). George Washington, ca. 1854. Oil on canvas. Memorial gift from Dr. T. Edward and Tullah Hanley, Bradford, Pennsylvania. 69.30.214

Rembrandt Peale was born into a highly artistic family and was taught the fine art of painting by his father, the notable artist Charles Wilson Peale. In 1787, when Rembrandt was only 17 years old, his father introduced the precocious painter to the formidable George Washington. The meeting left an indelible impression on the younger Peale, and not long after, he completed what would be the first of many portraits of the great founding father.

Peale’s interest in creating a benchmark portrait of America’s greatest hero became a life-long obsession. His attempt to standardize depictions of Washington began with the renowned painting Patriae Pater (Father of his Country), which was purchased by congress in 1832 and hangs in the Old Senate Chamber to this day.

Later in his career, Peale lectured on the importance of proliferating portraits Washington, convinced he was fulfilling a need for inexpensive and accurate images of America’s first president. In these lectures, Peale emphasized that first encounter with Washington, recounting a story in which the president placed a benevolent hand on the young artist’s head.

Peale’s most famous images of George Washington are often confused with those painted by his contemporary, Gilbert Stuart. Stuart’s best-known work is his own unfinished portrait of Washington, commonly known as The Athenaeum Portrait , which is jointly owned by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the National Gallery, and has donned the face of the one-dollar bill since its creation.

Celebrate Presidents Day and Rembrandt Peale’s birthday with George Washington, currently on view at the de Young!