George Washington, appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental army, took command of a ragtag force of some 17,000 men in July 1775. He kept an army together for the next eight-and-a-half years—losing more battles than he won—but effectively ended the war with his victory at Yorktown in October 1781.
Mission accomplished, Washington—a hero who could have been king—resigned his military commission before Congress on December 23, 1783, and retired to Mount Vernon. Here, the man all artists yearned to portray posed in his uniform for English artist Robert Edge Pine. He wryly observed, "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."
Laura Simo of Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens recently spoke about this portrait of Washington at a Face-to-Face portrait talk. The 1785 portrait is on view at the National Portrait Gallery, in the “America’s Presidents” exhibition on the museum’s first floor.
Listen to Laura Simo's Face-to-Face talk on George Washington (29:32)
Face-to-Face occurs every Thursday evening at the National Portrait Gallery. The next Face-to-Face talk is Thursday, July 9, when museum director Martin Sullivan speaks about Margaret Sanger. The talk runs from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. Visitors meet the presenter in the museum’s F Street lobby and then walk to the appropriate gallery.
George Washington / Robert Edge Pine / Oil on canvas, 1785 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution