Saturday, February 22, 2014

How George Washington Inspired artists

Litho by Strobridge & Gerlach, 1866

Before there were selfies, before photography, when people wanted to see themselves immortalized, they had portraits painted. Usually these were notable and affluent people, although there were painters who went around the country painting portraits for a pittance. Of the many prominent personages who have had their portraits taken, the most prominent is
George Washington who was born on this day 282 years ago.

His likeness inspired no less than 100 portraits by artist Gilbert Stuart, whose most famous portrait “Atheneaum” painted in 1796 became the likeness we see every day on our dollar bills. George didn’t like sitting for portraits and only actually sat for 32 of them, for 19 different artists. For more information, please see original article at George Washington Wired.

George Washington was born at Pope's Creek, Westmoreland County, Virginia.  Of his many exploits, he joined the Virginia militia which was under British control. In Pennsylvania his forces attacked a small French force in 1754, being the French and Indian war. After resigning his commission in 1758, he was given a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses. After some 15 years as a gentleman farmer, he was elected to the First Continental Congress. Washington was unanimously elected first President of the United States on April 30, 1789 in New York State.

There are many stories and legends about the father of our county as well as the many portraits. Portraits of the first president still inspire us today, even though looking back, we should consider the times and not try to color it with our 20th century knowledge. He was not perfect. When we look at his portrait, we can see someone who was brave, honorable and persevering. Washington was a man of principle, honor and discipline. He was able to shape, train and to be good leader. Being a good leadership means the ability to lead without being a dictator. The ability to motivate people towards a common goal without the use of force calls for inspired leadership. The ability to bring the members of a team together is also a difficult thing. Washington had the ability to do this. He was an inspiration leader who could incorporate everyone else’s ideas in order to make the outcome good for everyone concerned not just one party or individual.

One interesting portrait (pictured) is titled "Washington as a Freemason" by Strobridge & Gerlach lithographers, Pike's Opera House, Cincinnati, O. It was painted circa1866 and shows George Washington in a full-length portrait, standing, facing slightly right, in masonic regalia while holding a scroll and a rowel, common masonic implements. Set around him are portraits of Lafayette and Andrew Jackson as well as biblical themes. While many consider the country to be founded by Christians, some of our founding fathers were deists, Washington among them, and the Masonic ideals were well known amongst a number of early presidents and prominent men. Over the years, the fact that Washington was a mason has just become more widely known and for this reason, I think it has inspired much speculation and questions about our foundations in this country. Hopefully it also inspires more art.

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A portrait that hung in the home of the Washington family inspired a descendent of his brother to honor this great man by writing a book based on family accounts, that gives us a picture of George Washington as a young boy and how he was educated. He said it was a portrait that was his inspiration. The book, entitled “The Education of George Washington” attempts to dispel some of the myths and legends that we have grown up hearing, notably the story of the cherry tree as well as the story of the silver coin being tossed across the Potomac. For more information on this book and its reviews, check out the website of Rooftop Reviews here.

Whether or not you are inspired by George Washington, or whether you think he was a tyrant (some say he was cruel to his men), he was probably the most well known personages ever to grace a canvas. So today on George’s 282nd birthday, I am going to take out a dollar bill and say

                                               “Happy Birthday, George.” 

Cover photograph courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-pga-02796 (digital file from original print) LC-USZC4-4995 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-5532 (b&w film copy neg.) LC-USZCN4-181 (color film copy neg.) ·  Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Copyright by Strobridge & Gerlach. Retrieved on February 22, 2014 from:

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