Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

Today we celebrate the 280th birthday of our first president, George Washington. A pivotal and iconic figure in our nation’s history, Washington is easily recognizable on the dollar bill and quarter. Here on view at the DMA are a couple more examples of representations of our founding father.

"George Washington", c. 1786, Jean-Antoine Houdon, Painted plaster, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Ronald E. Fritz

The artist Rembrandt Peale saw how the nation was being shaped through art. Using the popular neoclassical style of the time, Peale depicted the president as an idealized, authoritative figure in military garb. In this famed “porthole portrait,” Peale monumentalizes Washington by depicting him gazing pensively out of the painted stone frame.  Peale created over seventy iterations of this portrait in hopes of creating an image as iconic as Gilbert Stuarts’s (which can be found on the quarter and the dollar . . . as well as at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Peale’s painting is also used in the George Washington Portrait Program. You can learn more about this program on Mount Vernon’s website.

"George Washington", Rembrandt Peale, c. 1850, Oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Karl and Esther Hoblitzelle Collection, gift of the Hoblitzelle Foundation

Encouraged by the then French ambassador Thomas Jefferson, the well-known French neoclassical sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon journeyed across the Atlantic from France to Mount Vernon with the goal of creating a life-size sculpture of the president.  Houdon created a life mask of Washington, which later served as a model for the DMA portrait bust and the life-size sculpture now in the State Capitol at Richmond. Again, Houdon idealizes the president and portrays him as an enlightened leader. (Some artists took this “idealized” representation a little too far. See Horatio Greenough’s massive sculpture, dubbed the “Enthroned Washington.”)

Don’t miss these works in the galleries as you celebrate President’s Day weekend!

Fun Facts:
• George Washington was 6 feet, 2 inches.
• Washington owned at least eight sets of dentures, none of them made of wood.
.• At his inauguration in 1789 he had only one tooth left.
• Washington’s presidential inauguration was held in the Federal Hall in New York City, as opposed to Washington, D.C.

Melissa Barry is the McDermott Curatorial Intern for Contemporary Art at the DMA. Lexie Ettinger is the Adult Programing Intern at the DMA.


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