Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art

Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art

by Hugh Howard
     
 

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An eloquent new look at the beginnings of the American republic—through the portraits of its first icon, George Washington, and the painters who defined him.

"I am so hackneyed to the touches of the painters pencil, that I am now altogether at their beck…no dray moves more readily to the Thill, than I do to the Painters

Overview

An eloquent new look at the beginnings of the American republic—through the portraits of its first icon, George Washington, and the painters who defined him.

"I am so hackneyed to the touches of the painters pencil, that I am now altogether at their beck…no dray moves more readily to the Thill, than I do to the Painters Chair."—George Washington, May 16, 1785

When George Washington was born, the New World had virtually no artists. Over the course of his life and career, a cultural transformation would occur. Virtually everyone regarded Washington as America's indispensable man, and the early painters and sculptors were no exception. Hugh Howard brings to life the founding fathers of American painting, and the elusive Washington himself, through the history of their portraits. We meet Charles Willson Peale, the comrade-in-arms; John Trumbull, the aristocrat; Benjamin West, the mentor; and Gilbert Stuart, the brilliant wastrel and most gifted painter of his day.

Howard's narrative traces Washington's interaction with these and other artists, while offering a fresh and intimate portrait of the first president. The Painter's Chair is an engaging narrative of how America's first painters toiled to create an art worthy of the new republic, and of the hero whom they turned into an icon.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“[A] lively narrative…A novel, ingeniously executed approach to the inspiring man whose dollar-bill likeness is arguably the most reproduced painted image in history.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Intricate and engaging…Howard's story is…not only about the birth of American painting, but--through the creation of its first, most long-lasting, and most transcendent human icon--about the invention of America itself.” —The American Scholar

“Patron of the arts is not the first association one makes with George Washington, but Howard elegantly makes the case that the founder of the nation also helped establish America's art. Though architecture, not painting, was Washington's preferred art, America's first prominent artists painted him: Charles Willson Peale, John Trumbull, Benjamin West and Gilbert Stuart, the most distinguished American painter of the period. Washington, who Howard argues was "easier to see and admire than to understand," is subtly revealed in a narrative that is precisely paced and elegantly composed.” —Publishers Weekly

“In the delightful The Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art, Hugh Howard develops the idea of Washington as a patron of the arts and examines how art and the painting of portraits developed in the United States.” —Book Page

“Hugh Howard's highly original work offers a completely new perspective on the Father of our Country, examining his life through the eyes of six of the 28 artists for whom he sat, showing how his increasing fame accelerated the development of American painting, and offering insight into how history and myth are made by images…History is a story, a myth that we are told and that we tell one another, that defines our existence as a people and a nation. What Hugh Howard so deftly tells in this important book is how the arts of painting and sculpture came to take an increasingly central part in our understanding of the first decades of the United States. He also alters our understanding of that amazing man, George Washington” —Dallas Morning News

Publishers Weekly

Patron of the arts is not the first association one makes with George Washington, but Howard elegantly makes the case that the founder of the nation also helped establish America's art. Though architecture, not painting, was Washington's preferred art, America's first prominent artists painted him: Charles Willson Peale, John Trumbull, Benjamin West and Gilbert Stuart, the most distinguished American painter of the period. Washington, who Howard argues was "easier to see and admire than to understand," is subtly revealed in a narrative that is precisely paced and elegantly composed. Howard (Dr. Kimball and Mr. Jefferson) illuminates Washington as an eminent patron of emerging American artists, who "fostered nothing less than the birth of American painting." He also insightfully documents how Washington's evolving public image and often inscrutable character were diversely revealed by some of the most eminent visual artists of the 18th century, many of whose images propelled Washington's iconic status. This perspective will interest scholars of Washington and of early American art, as well as general readers seeking a refreshing angle on Washington and art in America. 8 pages of color photos. (Feb.)

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Kirkus Reviews
Art historian Howard (Dr. Kimball and Mr. Jefferson, 2006, etc.) persuasively asserts the centrality of the first president to the first flowering of American painting. The American-born John Trumbull, Edward Savage, Gilbert Stuart, Charles Willson Peale and his son Rembrandt all benefited from the early example of Boston's John Smibert and his Painting Room, and the training most received at the London studio of expatriate Benjamin West, "the American Raphael." In addition, they all painted the nation's premier citizen and "most essential symbol." Howard argues that by the time of his death, Washington had presided over not only the birth of a new nation, but also, as patron and subject, over the maturation of American art and the development of an unprecedented public appetite for portraiture and history painting. The author assigns walk-on roles to John Singleton Copley and Charles Bullfinch, and he recalls French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon's working visit to Mount Vernon and the extensive preservation efforts undertaken years after the president's death. He focuses, though, on the painters' stories, their remarkable cross-pollination and their encounters with the dutiful main subject who, notwithstanding his own irritability and impatience at posing, appreciated the importance of appearances and precedent and understood art's vital public function. Washington's encouragement of the arts-aided by John Adams, Jefferson, Hancock and "the Nation's Guest" Lafayette-engineered a cultural transformation where, before the Revolution, few Americans had even seen a painting. Howard packs his lively narrative with interesting, sometimes amusing anecdotes: Stuart, first charming thenexasperating Martha Washington; Jefferson stage-managing Trumbull's history paintings; Gouverneur Morris serving as a substitute model for Houdon; Savage's relentless self-promotion; Rembrandt Peale's near breakdown over trying to capture Washington on canvas. A novel, ingeniously executed approach to the inspiring man whose dollar-bill likeness is arguably the most reproduced painted image in history.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781596912441
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
02/03/2009
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
1,247,566
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Hugh Howard's numerous books include Dr. Kimball and Mr. Jefferson; the definitive Thomas Jefferson, Architect; his memoir House-Dreams; and most recently the very successful Houses of the Founding Fathers.

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