The Painters Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art

The Painters Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art

by Hugh Howard
     
 

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"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, 16, 1785
When George Washington was born, the New World had virtually no artists. Over the course of his life, a cultural transformation would occur. Virtually…  See more details below

Overview

"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, 16, 1785
When George Washington was born, the New World had virtually no artists. Over the course of his life, a cultural transformation would occur. Virtually everyone regarded Washington as Americas indispensable man, and the early painters and sculptors were no exception. Hugh Howard surveys the founding fathers of American painting through their portraits of Washington. Charles Willson Peale was the comrade-in-arms, John Trumbull the aristocrat, Benjamin West the mentor, and Gilbert Stuart the brilliant wastrel. Their images of Washington fed an immense popular appetite that has never faded, Stuarts image endures today on the $1 bill. The Painters Chair is an eloquent narrative of how Americas first painters toiled to create an art worthy of the new republic, and the hero whom they turned into an icon.

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Editorial Reviews

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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781608191918
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
07/01/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
1,056,684
File size:
1 MB

Meet the Author

Hugh Howards 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. He resides in upstate New York with his wife, writer Elizabeth Lawrence, and their two teenage daughters.
Hugh Howards 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. He resides in upstate New York with his wife, writer Elizabeth Lawrence, and their two teenage daughters.

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