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PORTRAITS OF WASHINGTON.
HE earliest portraits of Washington are more
interesting, perhaps, as memorials than as works of art; and we can easily imagine
that associations endeared them to his old comrades. The dress (blue coat, scarlet facings, and underclothes) of the first portrait by Peale, and the youthful face, make it suggestive of the first experience of the future commander, when, exchanging the surveyor's implements for the colonel's commission, he bivouacked in the wilderness of Ohio, the leader of a motley band of hunters, provincials, and savages to confront wily Frenchmen, cut forest roads, and encounter all the perils of Indian ambush, inclement skies, undisciplined followers, famine, and
woodland skirmish. It recalls his calm authority and providential escape amid the dismay of Braddock's defeat, and his pleasant sensation at the first whistling of bullets in the weary march to Fort Necessity. To CHARLES WILSON PEALE, we owe this precious relic of the chieftain's youth. His own career partook of the vicissitudes and was impressed with the spirit of the revolutionary era ; a captain of volunteers at the battles of Trenton and Germantown, and a State representative of Pennsylvania, a favorite pupil of West, an ingenious mechanician, and a warrior, he always cherished the instinct and the faculty for art; and even amid the bustle and duties of the camp, never failed to seize auspicious intervals of leisure, to depict his brother officers. This portrait was executed in 1772, and is now at Arlington House.
The resolution of Congress by which a portrait by this artist was ordered, was passed before the occupation of Philadelphia. Its progress marks the vicissitudes of the revolutionary struggle ; commenced in the gloomy winter and half-famished encampment at Valley Forge, in 1778, the battles of Trenton, Princeton, and Monmouth intervened before its completion. At the last place Washington suggested that the view from the window of the farm-house opposite to which he was sitting, would form a desirable background. Peale adopted the idea, and represented Monmouth Court-house and a party of Hessians under guard marching out of it.* The picture was finished at Princeton, and Nassau Hall is a prominent object in the background; but Congress adjourned without making an appropriation, and it remained in the artist's hands. Lafayette desired a copy for the king of France; and Peale executed one in 1779, which was sent to Paris; but the misfortunes of the royal family occasioned its sale, and it became the property of the Count de Menou, who brought it again to this country and presented it to the National Institute, where it is now preserved. Chapman made two copies at a thousand dollars each ; and Dr. Craik, one of the earliest and warmest personal friends of Washington, their commissions as officers in the French war haying been signed on the same day (1754), declared it a most faithful likeness of him as he appeared in the prime of his life.t
* MS. Letter of Titian R. Peale to George Livermore, Esq. † Philadelphia, Feb. 4th.-His Excellency General Washington set off from this city to join the army in New Jersey. During the course of his short stay, the only relief he has enjoyed from service since he first entered it, he has been honored with every mark of esteem, etc. The Council of this State, being desirous of having his picture in full length, requested his sitting for that purpose, which he politely complied with, and a striking likeness was taken by Mr. Peale of this city. The portrait is to be placed in the council chamber. Don Juan Marrailes, the minister of France, has ordered five copies, four of which, we hear, are to be sent abroad. -- Pennsylvania Packet, February II, 1779. Peale's first portrait was executed for Colonel Alexander. He painted one in 1776 for John Hancock, and besides that for New Jersey, th for Pennsylvania and Maryland.
There is a tradition in the Peale family, honorably represented through several generations, by public spirit and artistic gifts, that intelligence of one of the most important triumphs of the American arms was received by Washington in a despatch he opened while sitting to Wilson Peale for a miniature intended for his wife who was also present. The scene occurred one fine summer afternoon; and there is something attractive to the fancy in the association of this group quietly occupied in one of the arts of peace, and in a commemorative act destined to gratify conjugal love and a nation's pride, with the progress of a war and the announcement of a victory fraught with that nation's liberty and that leader's eternal
The characteristic traits of Peale's portraits of Washington now at the National Institute and Arlington House, and the era of our history and of Washington's life they embalm, make them doubly valuable in a series of pictorial illustrations, each of which, independent of the degree of professional skill exhibited, is essential to our Washingtonian gallery. Before Trumbull and Stuart had caught from the living man his aspect in maturity and age, the form knit to athletic proportions by self-denial and activity, and clad in the garb of rank and war, and the countenance open with truth and grave with thought, yet rounded with the contour and ruddy with the glow of early man