The Met Is Selling a George Washington Portrait to Fund Its New Acquisitions

The painting is could make $2.5 million when it hits the block at Christie's.

Gilbert Stuart. George Washington (Vaughn-type) (1795). Photo courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2003.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is auctioning a 1795 portrait of George Washington by artist Gilbert Stuart. The painting is included in Christie’s Important Americana sale, which will take place from January 18–19 in New York. It is expected to fetch between $1.5 million and $2.5 million.

The painting, an oil on canvas and measuring about 29 by 23 inches, depicts the founding father in front of a crimson background. It is one of around 104 paintings of America’s first president made by Stuart—including his famed Athenaeum Portrait (1796), which would go on to bedeck U.S. postage stamps and one-dollar bills—after their introduction by mutual friend John Jay, the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Met’s portrait is one of about 14 known renditions the artist made of the same work, editions of which are held by institutions including the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., Harvard Art Museums, and the Frick Collection in New York. One hangs at the ritzy private school Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.

The National Gallery of Art version is known as George Washington (Vaughan portrait) (1795) after the painting’s first owner, Samuel Vaughan, a London merchant and friend of the president. Referred to as a “Vaughan-type” portrait, the work up for sale is considered one of the most significant from Washington’s first sitting with the artist.

The Met’s version of the painting was owned by the Manchester, England-based Phillips family, textile merchants who supported the American Revolution, according to Christie’s. In 1924, it ended up in the hands of New York businessman Richard De Wolfe Brixey, who gifted it and other works to the museum upon his death. Known as the Philips-Brixey version after its previous owners, the portrait has been in the Met’s collection for 80 years. According to the museum, the sale of the painting will fund its new acquisitions.

The Christie’s sale will also include other works that depict America’s other founding fathers, such as Rembrandt Peale’s 1852 Washington portrait (estimate: $300,000–$500,000) and Thomas Sully’s 1813 depiction of treasurer Benjamin Rush (estimate: $100,000–$300,000).

Also featured is painting by the first-known Black American professional portraitist, Joshua Johnson. The work depicts a mother and child named Martha and Mary Ann Dorsey, and has remained in the family’s possession since it was painted around 1804.

 

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