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22 Items in this Learning Collection

Copyright
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Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (1731-1802)

Accession Number
1895.76

Title
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (1731-1802)

Artist(s)
Rembrandt Peale

Object Creation Date
1858

Medium & Support
oil on canvas

Dimensions
35 ⅞ in x 29 ⅛ in (91.12 cm x 73.98 cm);35 ⅞ in x 29 ⅛ in (91.12 cm x 73.98 cm);47 ¾ in x 40 ½ in (121.29 cm x 102.87 cm)

Credit Line
Bequest of Henry C. Lewis

Label copy
March 28 2009
In the early years of the American Republic, from the 1790s to the mid-nineteenth century, an almost cultlike fascination with George Washington fueled numerous portraits of the first president and his wife, Martha. Rembrandt Peale based this painting on a portrait of Martha Washington painted by his father—renowned Colonial American artist Charles Wilson Peale—in 1795.
The trompe l’oeil stonework oval frame surrounding the sitter finds its source in ancient Roman funerary sculpture in which a portrait of the deceased is enframed in a stone oculus. Its inclusion here is fitting for a posthumous portrait, and it also mirrors Peale’s popular “porthole portraits” of George Washington, in which he framed the president in stone to underscore the subject’s heroic stature and allude to the ancient Roman Republic, whose ideals were regularly invoked by the U.S. Founding Fathers.
Peale’s portrait depicts the former First Lady as a suitable spouse to Washington. Peale seems not to have been striving to capture his subject’s physical likeness—after all, the portrait was painted many years after her death—but rather the idealized character of America’s “Founding Mother,” emphasizing her stoic nature and strength of character.

Subject matter
Based on a portrait of Martha Washington by his father, Charles Willson Peale, in 1795, this is one of several posthumous portraits of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (June 2, 1731-May 22, 1802) painted by Rembrandt Peale in the 1850s. The stone oculus surrounding the sitter mirrors Peale’s “porthole portraits” of George Washington, which he framed in stone to underscore the subject’s monumentality and to serve as an allusion to the Roman Republic, whose ideals were continually invoked by the Founding Fathers.

Physical Description
Bust-length portrait of a woman with grey hair in a cream colored dress seated in a red chair with a view of the landscape to right of figure seen through an illusionistic stone oval window or oculus.

Primary Object Classification
Painting

Primary Object Type
portrait

Collection Area
Western

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.

Keywords
portraits
seated
sunset
window
windows
women (female humans)

16 Related Resources

Kindergarten Tour: Family Portrait
(Part of: Visit UMMA: Curricular Tour Descriptions for Teachers)
Writing Activity: Portraiture and Point of View
(Part of: Writing + Art Enrichment Activities)
Fifth Grade: Picturing America
(Part of: Docent Curricular Tours)
Family Pictures Tour
(Part of: Docent Thematic Tours)
High School: Inspiration
(Part of: Docent Curricular Tours)
White Group Images
(Part of: Ann Arbor Public Schools English Language Arts Camp)
Activity : SP20 Young - HISTORY 260 
(Part of: Examples of Online Activities)

& Author Notes

All Rights Reserved