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Will The Real George Washington Please Sit Down?

May 2024
1min read


The band of heroes on pages 32-33 is made up of George Washington—alone. Every one of these eighteenth-century European engravings was solemnly offered by its publisher as a true representation of the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. The artists either added their own whims to earlier portraits, or summoned what they took to be an imposing military type from imagination alone. Nevertheless, they all insisted that their products were accurate; the brooding Mediterranean figure at the top right of page 33, for instance, was published by C. Shepherd of London, who claimed it was “Drawn from life by Alexr Campbell, of Williamsburgh in Virginia.” Washington said he’d never heard of the man.

Though far from shy about posing, the general was a busy man, and often hard to get to. One resourceful artist named Joseph Wright, having failed to arrange a sitting, was forced to resort to a mild ploy; he inveigled a seat in the pew opposite Washington’s in St. Paul’s Church in New York and, working unobtrusively, produced the profile below, which served as a point of departure for several more fanciful European likenesses.

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