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Lt. Gen. George Washington, 1785
Robert Pine (1730-1788)

View Artist Bio
Oil on canvas
35 x 28 inches
Status: The Westervelt Company, Tuscaloosa, Alabama




Half length portrait from life by Robert Edge Pine (1730-1788); oil on canvas, not signed, measuring 35 x 28 inches, attractively framed to museum standards in a period style gilt frame. Excellent condition.


Mt. Vernon, Virginia, April - May, 1785


This is the only known image of George Washington that can be documented as having been executed at Mt. Vernon after the first one by Charles Willson Peale in 1772. It is the only true image of George Washington drawn from life at Mt. Vernon that shows the man neither as the youthful military leader nor as the aging President, but in his full maturity (at age 53) as the revered figure in the brief interlude of private life between wartime duties and the political responsibilities of the Constitution and Presidency.


"Robert Edge Pine painted in America for a few short years during a period which was particularly unsettled from the point of view of the visual arts: the two decades between the departure of Copley in 1774 and the return of Stuart in 1792. Except for Charles Willson Peale...not a single major painter of enduring influence flourished on these shores during this interlude... Robert Edge Pine's work deserves to be cherished as a precious record of his subjects and their society just before the newly independent British colonies became the United States of America" - Marvin Sadik (director of the National Portrait Gallery), in the forward to the catalogue by Robert G. Stewart, Robert Edge Pine (Washington, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979), pp. 7-8


After leading the United States to military victory in a protracted conflict, 1775-1783, George Washington traveled westward in 1784 to inspect his extensive land holdings in the Ohio Valley.


Returning to Virginia, Washington spent 1785 largely at Mt. Vernon trying to rebuild his long neglected private domain. At 53, he was in the prime of life. That is the image we have of him in this portrait by Pine done from life in April and May of that year.


William Fairfax, Washington's Virginia neighbor then residing in England, had written George Washington a laudatory introduction letter about Pine's artistic ability and republican sentiments on August 23, 1784. Pine emigrated to America shortly afterward.


Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and Philadelphia patron of Pine, wrote George Washington a glowing letter of introduction for Pine on April 19, 1785.


The artist arrived at Mt. Vernon on April 28, 1785, where he remained for 22 days. There he painted George Washington, his wife Martha, Martha's niece, and the Custis grandchildren. The entries in Washington's Diary referring to Pine are as follows:


Thursday, April 28, 1785. "To Dinner Mr. Pine, a pretty eminent Portrait and Historical Painter, arrived in order to take my picture from the life and to place it in the Historical pieces he was about to draw. This Gentleman stands in good estimation as a Painter in England; come recommended to me from Colo. Fairfax, Mr. Morris, Gov. Dickenson, Mr. Hopkinson and others."


Friday, May 6th, 1785. "Breakfasted at Dumfries, and dined at home; where I found Mrs. Moylan (Genl. Moyland having gone on some business towards Fredercksburg), Mr. Pine, Mr. Jno. Lewis, and his Brother Lawrence, all of whom I had left at Mt. Vernon and where I found every body and thing well, except little Washington Custis who had two or three fits of the Ague and fever."


Thursday, May 19, 1785. "Mr. Pine left this (on his return to Philadelphia in my Phaeton, which was to carry him to Annapolis."


Saturday, December 31st, 1785. "...Landed 230 Bushels of Oats to day from an Eastern Shore vessel, and by her had brought from Alexandria the Picture drawn by Mr. Pine of Fanny Bassett now Washington and the young Custis."


Wednesday, September 12th, 1787. "In Convention. Dined at the President's and drank tea at Mr. Pine's."


No account of Pine's stay at Mount Vernon would be complete without reference to Washington oft-quoted reply to Hopkinson, dated May 15, 1785, just before Pine's departure from Mount Vernon:


"In for a penny, in for a pound, is an old adage. I am so hackneyed to the touches of the Painter's pencil, that I am now altogether at their beck, and sit like Patience on a monument, whilst they are delineating the lines of my face. It is a proof among many others, of what habit and custom can effect. At first I was as impatient at the request, and as reluctantly, but with less flouncing; now, no dray moves more readily to the Thill, than I do to The Painter's Chair. It may easily be conceived, therefore, that I yielded a ready obedience to your request, and to the views of Mr. Pine. Letters from England, recommendatory of this Gentleman, came to my hand previous to his arrival in America, not only as an Artist of acknowledged eminence, but as one who had discovered a friendly disposition towards this country, for which, it seems he had been marked."


"As an artist, Pine, in the opinion of Sir. Ellis Waterhouse, was in the 1760's the equivalent of Sir Joshua Reynolds...Reynolds, possibly Pine's rival, may have prevented him from becoming a founding member of the Royal Academy in 1769... His political views were sympathetic to the American Revolutionary cause...and it is not surprising that his thoughts turned to a new career in America...Pine was the first in the New World to build a gallery for the exhibition of art, the first to give a one-man show, and the first to publish an exhibition catalogue" - Robert G. Stewart, Robert Edge Pine (Washington, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979, pp. 13-16.


Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) had received his formal training in England before the Revolutionary War. Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) spent the war years in London and didn't return to America until 1792. John Trumbull did some sketching as a distinguished junior officer, but received his formal training in England from 1780 to 1790, when he returned to America. Both Stuart and Trumbull, therefore, only painted George Washington from life as an old man.


Peale, Stuart, Trumbull, and Robert Edge Pine all appear in The Dictionary of British 18th Century Painters in Oils by Sir Ellis Waterhouse (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1981). Pine, however also appears in the Dictionary of American Biography (vol. 14, pp. 620 and 621), attesting to his acceptance as an English-trained American artist.


Morgan and Fielding state that it is not possible to determine if this portrait or the one at the State House at Philadelphia is the original done from life. Pine may have sold a replica to Francis Hopkinson and kept the original. It is known that Pine corrected a portrait of Washington at a sitting in Philadelphia on July 2, 1787, during the Constitutional Convention.


However, it is more than likely that both this portrait and the one now in Philadelphia are originals since Pine had multiple sittings during his three weeks as a house guest at Mt. Vernon. "The artist may have started two or three canvases from the first sitting or the original life-study, and these may have been worked upon at subsequent sittings" - John Hill Morgan and Mantle Fielding, The Life Portraits of George Washington and Their Replicas (Philadelphia, 1932). p. xii.


As Morgan and Fielding point out, a life-portrait is one for which the subject actually appeared before the artist and was painted from the living form. A replica is an exact copy of such a portrait painted by the same artist who executed the original. A copy may be made by any painter not the creator of the original work.


Since this is the only one of the three surviving life-portraits by Pine to show George Washington with the three star epaulets as commander-in-chief, perhaps it was meant for the family. Pine also painted the Custis children at Martha Washington during his three week sojourn at Mt. Vernon. The former came down through the family to Washington and Lee University; the portrait of Martha is now at the Virginia Historical Society (according to the article on Pine in the Dictionary of American Biography, vol. 14, p. 621).


Pine produced about ninety paintings in America, but most were lost in a fire in 1803. Approximately one third have survived, of which three are portraits of George Washington. The first listed has been known since 1887, when it was willed to Independence Hall in Philadelphia by Benjamin Moran. The second was purchased in Canada by Henry Brevoort, and has come down through his descendants to Grenville Kane (as of 1932) and Mrs. Rolla D. Campbell, Jr. (as of 1979). This painting was sold to the National Portrait Gallery after the 1979 Pine Exhibition.


This is the third in the order of their listing by Morgan and Fielding. It has been known since 1913 when it appeared in the Americana catalogue of Godefroy Meyer of Paris.


In 1925, Percy A. Rockefeller acquired this painting. It was purchased from his estate by Hayden Bartlett Harris through Knoedler & Co. in 1947. He in turn donated it in 1959 to the Harris Bank of Chicago, where it has remained until the present.


The Meyer-Rockefeller-Harris-Harris Bank

life-portrait of George Washington






1.         WASHINGTON, GEORGE. Diaries. Mt. Vernon, Virginia, April 28,        1785. In this entry, Washington notes the arrival of Pine at          his estate to paint his portrait.


2.         WASHINGTON, GEORGE. Diaries. Mt. Vernon, Virginia, May 6,           1785. IN this entry, Washington acknowledges the presence of    Pine at his estate to execute portraits.


3.         WASHINGTON, GEORGE. Letter to Francis Hopkinson (a signer of        the Declaration of Independence and a close friend then            residing in Philadelphia). Mt. Vernon, Virginia, May 16, 1785.             Here Washington replies to the letter of introduction            Hopkinson wrote for Pine (April 19, 1785) to secure him the         commission to paint this portrait. In his reply, Washington   bemoans the amount of time spent sitting for Pine.


4.         WASHINGTON, GEORGE. Diaries. Mt. Vernon, Virginia, May 19,         1785. In this entry, Washington records the departure of Pine     from his estate after finishing this portrait and others of             family members.


5.         JOHNSTON, ELIZABETH B. Original Portraits of Washington. . .            Boston, 1882. This painting is described on pp. 39-41.


6.         MAYER, GODEFROY. Old Paintings... Art Relating to America.             Paris, 1913. This is catalogue number 30 by this prominent                     French art dealer. This painting is listed as item 56 and             illustrated.


7.         NEW YORK TIMES. A color gravure of this portrait was published          in the newspaper's issue of February 22, 1925.


8.         MORGAN, JOHN HILL, and MANTLE FIELDING. The Life Portraits of          Washington and their Replicas. Philadelphia, 1931. This          painting is described on p. 88 as items 3 and 4.        


9.         WEDDELL, ALEXANDER WILBOURNE, F.R.G.S., LITT. D. A Memorial      Volume of Virginia Historical Portraiture, 1585-1830.              Richmond, Virginia, 1930.   This painting is discussed on pp.       218-219.  



10.       EISEN, GUSTAVUS. Portraits of Washington. New York, 1932. Three volumes. This painting is described on pp. 426-27 of     volume two.


11.       ROCKEFELLER, PERCY A. Loan Collection of American Historical       Portraits. This is a catalogue published by the University of           southern California, Los Angeles, of an exhibition from       November 14 to December 31, 1939. This portrait is item 17.


12.       STEWART, ROBERT G.  Robert Edge Pine. . . Washington, 1979.            This is a catalogue published by the National Portrait Gallery     (Marvin Sadik, Director). This portrait is illustrated as item 79 of the loan exhibit courtesy of the Harris Trust and       savings Bank of Chicago.

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