George Washington: The Lansdowne Portrait
1796, Portrait Gallery
A large-as-life canvas shaped our image of the nation’s first president
Gilbert Stuart’s great oil painting—commissioned by Pennsylvania Senator William Bingham and given to Britain’s Marquis of Lansdowne for his support of the American cause during the War of Independence—immortalized Washington’s famed resoluteness, painful dentures notwithstanding. Yet “it is notorious,” the founding father’s grandson George Washington Parke Custis wrote, “that it was only by hard begging that Mrs. Bingham obtained the sittings” for Stuart, who painted only the face from life. He used stand-ins for the figure (whose “fleshiness” Custis decried).