American Paintings: George Washington

In this video, VHS Manager of Educational Services William Obrochta examines the life of George Washington through paintings on display in the “Becoming Americans” gallery.

This depiction of George Washington (1732–1799) as commander of the Continental army was painted in the 1790s by Charles Peale Polk, who derived the image from portraits taken from life by his more famous uncle Charles Willson Peale.

Washington was keenly aware of physical appearance and paid considerable attention to both proper dress and proper demeanor. He said, “nothing adds more to the appearance of a man than dress.” Washington concerned himself with the buttons, trimmings, and all manner of details of his uniform. He even powdered his hair to enhance the sense of dignity.

Washington was as attentive to his demeanor as to his dress. Gifted with an extraordinary personality and presence, he knew how to project those qualities and make the most of them. It was by the force of that personality that Washington held together the Continental army in the face of overwhelming odds, limited enlistments, and shortages of materials.


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