Painted by his lieutenant
This portrait of George Washington wearing his blue and yellow military uniform was painted by Charles Wilson Peale. Peale's painting gives some idea of Washington's poise and confidence. He looks every inch the general in command of the Revolutionary War's Continental Army. It is said that the wide ribbon across Washington's vest was worn to identify him to his troops. But once his men saw him, they were not likely to forget him. Six feet, 3 inches tall at a time when people were generally smaller than they are now, he probably towered over nearly everyone. In spite of his size he loved to dance and was an excellent horseman.
Washington's eyes were gray-green and his hair dark brown. He did not wear a wig but bowed to fashion by sometimes powdering his hair and attaching a queue, or short braid, in the back.
Peale, the artist, began to paint when he was 20 years old. He had been apprenticed to a saddlemaker when he was 13 and after seven years was free to do as he pleased. He became an upholsterer, then a silversmith, and turned his lively mind and capable hands to many projects over the years. He decided on painting because he thought he could make a good living for his family with portraits.
Without cameras or television all pictures were done by painting and drawing. Whenever Peale needed money for his natural history museum or for an invention he was working on, he would turn to painting.
Because of his reputation as a portrait painter Peale was invited to Mount Vernon in 1772 to paint the very first portrait of Washington ever done. And he painted many portraits of Washington after that. Peale admired Washington for being a man of few words and for being direct when he did speak. He also admired Washington's great strength, which he observed firsthand at Mount Vernon.
Peale and several other young men were pitching a heavy iron bar to see who could throw it farthest. Washington appeared and took a turn, pitching the bar way beyond the markers of the astonished younger men. Later Peale served as a lieutenant and then a captain under Washington at the very battles this painting honors.
Washington was not only tall and strong, but also steady and courageous. He took the responsibilities of his private and public life very seriously. He was devoted to the cause of freedom from Great Britain and to the ideals upon which the United States would be founded. A lesser man might have failed during the terrible hardships of the Revolutionary War.
Because of these qualities the people had faith in Washington and elected him to be the first President of our country in 1789. They elected him again for a second term. He was asked to accept a third term but he was weary of public life and wanted to return to his beloved Mount Vernon. But Washington remained a symbol of freedom and democracy to people in the United States and in Europe.