The present lot is based on the 'Athenaeum' portrait, originally painted from life by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) in the spring of 1796, and the second of the three iconic sittings of Washington, following the ‘Vaughan’ type, painted in 1795, and preceding the full-length ‘Lansdowne’ version, painted later in 1796. Both the original 'Athenaeum' version, now owned jointly by the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and its companion portrait of Martha Washington, were executed in Stuart’s Germantown, Pennsylvania studio when Washington was sixty-four years of age. Having returned to America in 1793 despite a successful career in England and Ireland, Stuart found himself equally in demand as a portrait painter of the New Republic's elite, thus necessitating the move to larger rooms in Germantown from his studio on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.
Set against a dark background which contrasts with his white hair and blue eyes, Washington sits off center with his head turned slightly to the right, dressed in a black velvet suit and white shirt with a ruffle of lace or linen. Much of Stuart's success and popularity can be attributed to his skilled ability in capturing the sitter's personality by combining his theories on physiognomy with careful study of his or her individual anatomy (Carrie Rebora Barratt and Ellen G. Miles, Gilbert Stuart (New Haven, 2005), pp.133-134). Later in life, when Stuart was asked his opinion regarding the numerous likenesses of Washington produced, he replied, “’Houdon’s bust comes first, and my head of him next. When I painted him he had just had a set of false teeth inserted [in 1789], which accounts for the constrained expression so noticeable about the mouth and lower part of the face. Houdon’s bust does not suffer from this defect. I wanted him as he looked at the time.’” (Mantle Fielding, Gilbert Stuart’s Portraits of George Washington (Philadelphia, 1923), p. 78). The original canvas was used by the artist as a model from which he made approximately seventy-five replicas. Stuart generally charged one hundred dollars for these, which he painted whenever he was in need of money; the last was completed in 1825 for a Baltimore collector (Fielding, pp. 99-102). The from-life portraits of Washington and Martha were left unfinished and remained in the Stuart family until purchased from the artist’s widow in 1831 by the Boston Athenaeum.
In their 1931 publication The Life Portraits of Washington and Their Replicas, scholars John Hill Morgan and Mantle Fielding attempted to further group the 'Athenaeum' portraits into types. Similar examples to the present lot are in the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, the Huntington Library, Arts Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California, as well as the United States Capitol. As Morgan and Fielding note, "[i]n all canvases of this type, the face is rounder, the nose longer and more aquiline and the expression different from the Athenaeum head. All are carefully and thoroughly painted and done probably about 1798. The majority show the saw-toothed queue ribbon, dark eyes and lace jabot. All which have been traced so far to purchasers in this period (1796-1798) or to original Pennsylvania owners..., and all of the left side of the face found in England are of this [t]ype..." (Philadelphia, 1931) p. 242). The ownership of the present lot can be traced back to the end of the nineteenth century in England. The Catalogue of Portraits in the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York notes that the portrait had been in the "collection of Mr. Cholmondely of Salop, England" (New York, 1924), p. 96). This was most likely Reginald Cholmondeley (1826-1896) of Shropshire, England. Having inherited the Elizabethan manor Condover Hall upon the death of his brother Thomas in 1863, Reginald continued the pursuits of his forefathers, adding to the diverse collection, including Old Master paintings, arms and armor, Continental furniture and Chinese porcelain. Here he played host to large parties of aristocrats, authors and artists, including the Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) in 1873 and 1879. Upon Cholmondeley’s death in 1896, the manor was sold and the contents auctioned in a series of sales the following year, beginning with a three day event at Christie, Manson and Woods in London 4-6 March 1897 and followed by sales held at the manor the 9-11 of March through the firm of Wm. Hall, Wateridge, and Owen (“Dispersal of the Condover Hall Collection,” Shropshire Notes and Queries, vol. VI (1897), pp. 34-38).
The Portrait of George Washington then passed through the hands of the London dealer A. T. Goodol to banker and philanthropist Morris K. Jessup (1830-1908) of New York. Jessup was president of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York from 1899 to 1907 and the largest subscriber to its Beaux Arts headquarters built in 1900-1901. Founded in 1768 by twenty merchants, the Chamber was the first commercial organization of its kind in the country. The Chamber maintained a portrait collection beginning in 1772, featuring men who helped build the commercial and industrial history of New York, many of which were officers of the organization (Catalogue of Portraits in the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York (New York, 1924), p. 9). After Jessup’s death in 1908, the present lot was presented to the Chamber by Jessup’s widow. For additional works held in the Chamber’s collection, see lots 73-78.