Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860) was one of seventeen children of Charles Willson Peale, the head of Philadelphia's first and most influential family of artists. He was also the son upon whom his father most counted to carry on the tradition. In turn, the younger Peale looked to George Washington to help him gain a secure reputation and hoped that this portrait, dubbed the "port-hole portrait" because of the oval stonework framing the sitter, would become the official likeness of the father of our country. Peale himself referred to the portrait as his Patriae Pater. Although an image by painter Gilbert Stuart was chosen instead, Rembrandt Peale made good use of his painting by creating over seventy versions of it throughout his lifetime at the request of various collectors. These provided a continuous income for the artist who also lectured around the country on "Washington and his Portrait."
The artist's first sitting with Washington was granted in 1795 when Peale was only 17. Washington was so in demand as a subject for portraits that he often sat for more than one artist at a time. Stuart sat in on one such session that also included three of the Peale family causing Stuart to proclaim that Washington was being "pealed all around." Peale's inspiration in using the heroic pose and oval stonework frame came from European prints where it was used to signify the importance of the sitter. The military uniform used here was replaced in some versions of the portrait by the dark suit of a statesman. The example owned by the Museum was exhibited in the Peale Memorial Exhibition in 1923 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and in the Bicentennial Exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in1976 as one of the finest of the seventy examples of this subject. Appropriately, it was one of the first paintings acquired by the Museum in 1958, the year we opened to the public.