In celebration of the Fourth of July, we thought it might be fun to spotlight some of the great American artworks in our collection that have been created in the 237 years since our nation’s founding.
What better way to start than with the Father of Our Country? This portrait, completed fifty-one years after Washington’s death, was created by an artist who had met George Washington on several occasions. His first encounter with the president occurred when Rembrandt Peale was just seventeen years old. He painted a portrait of the president that would serve as the inspiration for countless additional portraits over the years. Peale shows Washington in his later years, perhaps reflecting back on his time as a surveyor, general, and president. When you visit the galleries, you might compare this painting with Jean-Antoine Houdon’s bust of George Washington, which is located right around the corner. Which one do you think is a more accurate likeness?
It’s impossible to lead a tour through our galleries without stopping at the Gothic bedstead. As beautiful as this work of art is, I think its history is even more fascinating. This bed was commissioned by a group of Whig party supporters who were convinced that Henry Clay was finally going to win an election and become President of the United States. Unfortunately for those eager supporters, Clay lost the 1844 election to James K. Polk, and the bed never made its way into the White House. It’s always fun to hear from our visitors who they think might have slept in a bed this grand.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American artists headed West to explore new territories in the United States. Many of them were captivated by the natural beauty of the landscape—especially areas like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite Parks. These artists began to think of such awe-inspiring locations as our cathedrals and monuments. By capturing their beauty and grandeur on canvas, they celebrated the landscapes that make our country unique. What natural wonders are your favorite American landscapes?
Our collection provides many wonderful primary sources that relate to key events in American history. We hope that you’ll come visit them in person on July 4—the DMA will be open (with FREE general admission) from 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.
Shannon Karol is the Manager of Docent and Teacher Programs at the DMA.