In present day when the way a public figure looks is everything, it’s hard to imagine a time when almost no one in the country knew what the president looked like. However, even before the advent of the photograph, everyone knew what George Washington looked like. Washington knew that symbols mattered and that he was a symbol and so he begrudgingly sat for portraits by Charles Willson Peale, Gilbert Stuart, Edward Savage, John Trumbull and others. The Painter’s Chair by Hugh Howard tells the story of America’s first president through the lives of the artists who painted him, most whom can trace their techniques to the lesser-known and deceased John Smibert. While I never seem to tire of reading about Colonial-era artists, in The Painters’ Chair Hughes is successful at weaving together the stories of prominent and lesser-known artists in new ways. In doing so he creates his own portrait of George Washington.
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