Portrait of George Washington

Portrait of George Washington by Denis A. Volozan, oil on canvas, 7' by 5', 1802.
Portrait of George Washington by Denis A. Volozan, oil on canvas, 7′ by 5′, 1802.

After the death of George Washington in December 1799, the Delaware General Assembly, immediately upon convening in January 1800, resolved that a portrait be commissioned “in consequence of the eventful and ever to be lamented death of the late illustrious chief and friend of America General George Washington.” Denis Alexander Volozan (born Lyon, France, 1765; died Philadelphia, PA 1820) was engaged to paint the portrait with the instruction that Washington was to appear as large as life. Volozan’s painting was one of the very first and largest of portraits to be commissioned (26 days) after Washington’s death.

Volozan had recently arrived in America from France, settling in Philadelphia in 1799 where he established a reputation as a neoclassical painter and architect, and where he made the acquaintance of a number of artists including the noted portraitist Gilbert Stuart. At that time, dozens of portraits and likenesses of Washington had been created in every corner of the newly formed nation. In 1796, Stuart himself had painted an iconic likeness of Washington known as “The Athenaeum” which is now featured on the United States one dollar bill. As it is unlikely that Volozan had ever met Washington, it is probable that he used likenesses painted by other artists, such as the one created by Stuart, when the time came for him to complete his own portrait of the Revolutionary War leader and first president of the United States.

Volozan’s finished portrait, measuring seven feet by five feet, was completed in 1802 and transported aboard the sloop Dove from Philadelphia to Dover Landing (located on the St. Jones River just east of the present-day Legislative Hall). From there it was delivered by horse and wagon to the newly built Delaware State House (1791) where it was installed first in the chamber of the House of Representatives and later in the Senate chamber where it is currently displayed. The total cost was $513.03, including $400 for the painting and $93 for an elegant frame.

Since its installation, the painting has been repaired or restored seven times beginning in 1836; and again in 1915, 1920, 1966, 1968, 1976 for the Bicentennial; and finally in 2007 when both the painted surface and gilded Victorian frame were repaired in conjunction with the most recent restoration of The Old State House.

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