Portrait of George Washington
Adolph Ulrich Wertmüller, Swedish (active United States), 1751 - 1811
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Trained in history painting and portraiture at the art academies of Sweden and France, Wertmüller studied under the neoclassical painter Joseph Marie Vien (French, 1716-1809) and served as court painter to King Gustaf III of Sweden. The unstable political environment in Europe provoked by the French Revolution (1789-99) undermined his patronage, however, and his democratic sympathies led him to Philadelphia, where in 1794 the well-established portraitist Charles Willson Peale welcomed him into the city's artistic life.
Like Peale and Gilbert Stuart (another great American portraitist of the period), Wertmüller was given the opportunity to paint George Washington from life and, like them, he hoped a demand for replicas would produce a steady income. In this likeness, executed in a strongly modeled academic style, Wertmüller depicts Washington as statesman rather than general. The velvet coat and cascading lace jabot document the president's love of fine dress and place him in the company of the wealthy, international social and political elites he routinely met in the elegant Philadelphia homes of the McKeans and Powels.
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