George Washington, ca. 1795–96
Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755–1828)
Oil on canvas; 30 1/4 x 25 1/4 in. (76.8 x 64.1 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1907 (07.160)
When he first sat for Stuart, President George Washington was sixty-three years old and near the end of his second term of office. Stuart subscribed to prevailing theories about physiognomy, which held that a study of the outward body could reveal a person's inner qualities. It took all of Stuart's colloquial powers to engage Washington in conversation so his face would move and Stuart could fathom the president's character, or personality. His portraits of Washington were a success from the start. Stuart painted three distinct portraits from life: the so-called Vaughan (as here, showing the right side of Washington's face); the Athenaeum (showing the left side of his face); and the Lansdowne (full length). Stuart painted at least 100 versions of the different compositions, most of them based on the Athenaeum portrait.