When the present work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1902 it was accompanied by the following extract:
His battles over, his country freed, his great work of liberation complete, the General laid down his victorious sword, and met his comrades of the army in a last adieu...A barge was in waiting at the Whitehall Ferry to convey him across the Hudson...A line of infantry was formed from the tavern to the ferry, and the General, with his officers following him, walked silently to the water.
William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) The Virginians (1857).
In 1781, Washington, commanding both American and French forces, besieged General Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown in Virginia. The British surrender there was the effective end of their attempts to quell the Revolution. In 1783, by means of the Treaty of Paris, Great Britain recognized American independence. As a result, on 2 November of that year at Rocky Hill, New Jersey General Washington gave his "Farewell Address to the Army". On December 4th Washington met the principal officers of the army at Fraunces' Tavern, New York. Having taken leave of each officer, he passed through the corps of light infantry, and walked to Whitehall, where a barge waited to carry him to Powles' Hook. The whole company followed and Gow has chosen to portray the moment when he bid a final farewell, most probably to General Knox, before alighting the barge. General George Washington resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Army to the Congress, which was then meeting at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, on December 23rd, 1783. After the war, he presided over the American Constitutional Convention in 1787. He was elected President on February 4th 1789 and 1792.
From 1867 Gow exhibited paintings of historical and military subjects at the Royal Academy. His best-known work is also a scene of departure and similar in composition to the present work, entitled A Lost Cause: Flight of King James II after the Battle of the Boyne, 1888 (London, Tate Gallery). Gow's following exhibit at the Royal Academy after the present work was also the scene of farewell to another military hero - Farewell to Nelson, Portsmouth, September 14, 1805 (1904, no. 211).
Gow lived in St John's Wood in the midst of a lively artistic community and the exclusive St John's Wood Clique. Although not a member, he was a prolific host and between 1891 and 1897 he entertained some of the most eminent painters and artists of the period including Alma-Tadema, Leighton, Watts, Stone, Millais, Poynter, Dicksee, Solomon H.W.B. Davis, MacWhirter, Waterhouse and Riviere.