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Portrait of George Washington

Adolph Ulrich Wertmüller, Swedish (active United States), 1751 - 1811

Made in United States, North and Central America


Oil on canvas

25 3/8 x 21 1/8 inches (64.4 x 53.7 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

* Gallery 207, American Art, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Wagner, 1986

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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.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.