RESPONDING TO a near-constant flow of requests, George and
Martha Washington sat for about two dozen portraits from 1789 to
1797, collected here in this elegantly illustrated volume. From
miniatures executed on ivory for family and friends to a historical
portrait that depicts Washington during the Revolution,
the../images vary widely in treatment and setting. What they all
reflect, Ellen Miles suggests, is the great need the new republic
had for portraits of its first chief executive, often to stand in
for Washington himself. In the portraits, Martha Washington is
usually dressed plainly, her round face composed in a benign but
cheerful expression. Portraits of George Washington often show him
in military uniform, the pin of the Society of the Cincinnati on
his lapel; others have him in black velvet, wearing a simple
ruffled white shirt, his hair tied back in a queue. Most observers
agreed that Martha was short and pleasant-looking, and that George
was nearly six feet tall, had a long nose, large and penetrating
light eyes, and a noble forehead. The state of his teeth affects
his appearance in some portraits.
Washington responded to having his likeness taken with a
characteristic mixture of pride in his position and mild
irritation. Once, a painter in Boston hid behind a church pulpit to
sketch him. Washington's mild chafing at requests for him to sit
illustrates the conflict he felt between his obligation to the
nation and his desire to return to private life. As Edmund Morgan
writes in his preface, Washington "succeeded in clothing the new
government with his own honor and left the presidency with a
heritage of independence and respect which, despite the antics of
so many of his successors, has never quite left it." George and
Martha Washington: Portraits from the Presidential Years offers,
quite literally, a unique portrait of the original First
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