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Between and Mortarboard

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22 Items in this Learning Collection

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Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (1731-1802)

Accession Number

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (1731-1802)

Rembrandt Peale

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
oil on canvas

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

Primary Object Type

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women (female humans)

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