Happy Fourth of July weekend, dear readers! In honor of our country’s great history I’m sharing a phenomenal portrait of George Washington and his family by artist Edward Savage. Taking 7 years to complete, it was worked on tirelessly by Savage from 1789-1796. Beyond just a portrait of our First Family, each brushstroke is an invitation to discover a plethora of interesting art history tidbits. Let’s take a closer look-see, shall we?
Seated elegantly at Mount Vernon, we immediately recognize George Washington. Next, we can spy Martha Washington and two children. George and Eleanor, the youngest subjects, are the grandchildren of Martha later adopted by President Washington as legal heirs and raised as his own.
William Lee, their house servant, stands in the background dressed in finery. An off-putting portrayal and dark reminder of our past, Mr. Lee secures a rightful place painted into history.
Each subject sat for Savage several times in 1789 and 1790 in New York City, then the United States capital. Over the next 7 years, he masterfully wove all his drawings together to create this painting that is 9 feet wide and boasts figures that are almost life-size.
Pops of Patriotism
The curtains are pulled back to give the viewer a grand glimpse of the Potomac River from a window at Mount Vernon. George Washington dons his military uniform, an ode to his service as a general and reminder that he led the Continental army to victory over Great Britain during the Revolutionary War. His black hat and sword lay across a map on the table.
Eleanor and the First Lady draw our attention to this large map of Washington DC, the nation’s next capital. When this portrait was being painted, DC was a malarial swamp and on the map we can see plans for avenues and canals are laid out where dirt roads existed. Martha uses her closed fan to point directly at Pennsylvania Avenue, right where the White House will be built.
It’s quite hard to believe that Edward Savage was a self-taught artist given his incredible mastery of fabrics. Take a look at the shimmering satin on Martha Washington’s dress, magnificent!
Her lace shawl and the rich red of the brocade chairs they sit upon are extra masterful.
In 1798, Savage made his fortune on this painting by turning it into an engraving. He had over 400 subscribers including the portrait sitter himself, George Washington, who purchased 4 copies. Over the years, the painting would change hands through estate inheritances and sales. “The Washington Family” was a part of private collections, on display at small museums and government societies before finding its way to The National Gallery of Art in DC. A very fitting forever home for this monumental glimpse into our American history! (All images are courtesy of the NGA.)
I’m off to prep for our lunch tomorrow, below is my tablescape if you need a little last minute inspiration. Wherever you may be spending Independence Day be it beachside, mountainside or even abroad, I hope your 4th is fantastic!
p.s. If you’re in the company of a fellow art-loving relative or friend, please do send them over to stuffymuffy.com. Thank you, thank you!