Monday, January 14, 2013

"Who General Washington Is"

Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart

George Washington is foremost among America's men of honor, rivaled only by Robert E. Lee. The most famous portrait we have of Washington, the one that appears on the dollar bill, was painted by the English portrait artist Gilbert Stuart. Here is an anecdote demonstrating Washington's sense of himself. According to James Thomas Flexner’s Washington: The Indispensable Man, Washington and Stuart did not get on.
The portraitist usually kept his sitters amused and their faces alive by a flood of showy and outrageous talk. Washington always felt uneasy at having to remain still and being stared at and was put out rather than being amused. Stuart, who felt that “artists were fundamentally superior to all other men including Presidents, resented Washington’s formality. He could not forget what had resulted when, in trying to unstiffen the hero, he had gone to the length of saying, “Now, sir, you must let me forget that you are General Washington and I am Stuart the Painter. Washington replied (as it seemed to him politely), Mr. Stuart need never feel the need for forgetting who he is and who General Washington is.”
Washington's sense of who he was, and where he stood in relation to other men, was characteristic of the man of honor.

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