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signed Rembrandt Peale. (lower left), together with an autograph letter documenting this portrait's commission signed Rembrandt Peale to Enoch Dean, Philadelphia, 24 December 1852
oil on canvas
36 x 29 ¼ in.
(2)Painted circa 1852
Acquired from the artist by Mr. Enoch Dean, Philadelphia, 1852
Mr. M.W. Dean, Philadelphia, son
Mrs. Sara (Stuart Dean) Platt (1861-1929), Westchester County, New York, daughter
Mr. Stuart Dean Platt (1896-1967), Sharon, Connecticut, son
Sotheby Parke-Bernet Galleries, 19 January 1939, lot 52
Kleeman Galleries, New York
Dr. Chester J. Robertson, Pelham Manor, New York
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, New York

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Lot Essay

“Your Picture will survive me, and as my mortal remains will perish, my work will live & increase in value – especially in the estimation of those who entertain a just Veneration for the great Original, whose equal among Men has not been found.
-- Rembrandt Peale, letter that accompanies the sale of this portrait to its original owner, Enoch Dean, dated 24 December 1852

Born on Washington’s birthday during the American Revolution, Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860) felt destined to create the ultimate portrait of George Washington which he believed would be the “standard likeness” of the nation’s first president. In 1823, he drew upon his previous endeavors, as well as those by John Trumbull, Gilbert Stuart, his father and Jean-Antoine Houdon, and with a neoclassical idealism, created his best version: “Patriae Pater” (fig. 2). The presentation of Washington in his portrait was to show how his “countenance corresponded with his conduct” (Rembrandt Peale, “Washington and His Portraits,” with certification of authenticity by Harriet C. Peale, January 25, 1865 [circa 1865] (Haverford College, Pennsylvania: Charles Roberts Autograph Letters Collection, F:VIA/12B7). From then on until his death, Rembrandt created at least seventy-nine versions of this work which would become known as his “porthole paintings”, including the present portrait. Rembrandt depicts Washington with a strong brow, Roman nose and pronounced jaw, characteristics that recall Houdon’s version. Rembrandt created a composite image of the American hero; idealized to communicate a figure that transcends the confines of mortality. He is framed by an illusionistic trompe l’oeil stone masonry window, reminiscent of Roman funerary sculpture; another influence of neoclassicism and a nod to the Roman Republic from which the ideals of the country were rooted. Rembrandt paints Washington against a background of clouds. By not placing him in a specific place and time, he creates an ethereal image of the man and elevates him to an almost Godly status.

Rembrandt Peale was born into the artist family headed by his father Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). In 1787 during the Philadelphia Convention, Rembrandt first met George Washington at the age of nine. Washington sat for the elder Peale, while Rembrandt stood behind and watched before assisting with the preparation and execution of a mezzotint that was published in September of that year (fig. 3). This first interaction with Washington proved influential in several ways; not only was it a technical lesson for the budding artist, but it also ignited the spark that would enflame a deep desire in Rembrandt to capture the “true” likeness of the American hero. His next attempt occurred eight years later, alongside his father during three life sittings. The resulting work showed the second-term President with all his imperfections, age and weariness, a naturalistic likeness but one that did not, in Lillian B. Miller’s words, become an icon (fig. 4) (Lillian B. Miller, In Pursuit of Fame: Rembrandt Peale (Washington, D.C., 1992), p. 33).

Peale’s travels to France in 1808-10 inspired him to endeavor on a neoclassical equestrian portrait of Washington in the Grand Manner. He would eventually accomplish this in his Washington before Yorktown (fig. 5). First, Peale needed to create the perfect image of Washington. He heavily relied on the likeness created by Jean-Antoine Houdon. While in France, Rembrandt visited Houdon’s studio to paint the sculptor and to see his now famous cast of George Washington firsthand (fig. 6). This sale includes a version of the bust by Houdon (see lot 473), and one of Peale’s studies of it for his own likeness of George Washington (see lot 472).

In the accompanying letter to this portrait, Peale thanks the purchaser of his portrait of Washington, writing he was "extremely gratified to learn that you are so much pleased with my Portrait of Washington, for in executing it I took great pains to make it a Fac Simile of the Original And for myself, the Image of Washington[']s countenance is so fixed in my Memory that I am the last to be pleased with my own work. Your Picture will survive me, and as my mortal remains will perish, my work will live & encrease in value — especially in the estimation of those who entertain a just Veneration for the Great original, whose equal among Men has not been found" (fig. 7).

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