Thursday, May 21, 2009

by Hugh Howard

George Washington never did relish sitting for an artist. But, as he had done so for various times, he resigned himself to it. This was the only way painters could produce his likeness on canvas.
In the eighteenth century, art in America was not as popular or current as it was in Europe.
That was soon to change with the emergence of Charles Willson Peale, the man who was everyone's friend; John Trumbull, an aristocrat, who thought very highly of himself; Benjamin West, a mentor to all artists; and Gilbert Stuart, probably the most gifted one. (His unfinished portrait of Washington is on the one-dollar bill.)
These men produced works of their hero, who became an icon to the American republic.
Hugh Howard does an incredible job of depicting the lives of the painters and Washington's interaction with them.
There's some neat trivia, here, too. Both Robert Fulton and Samuel F.B. Morse make an appearance.
The Painter's Chair is a marvelous book, full of history and detailed descriptions of the works. There are sixteen pages of colored plates.
The author's sources for the text were the papers of Washington, the artists, scholars and books. Quite an extensive bibliography (twelve pages worth), notes and an index round out this exceptional book.
Highly recommended.