Workers prepare to install a 1772 portrait of George Washington by Charles Willson Peale in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum at Mount Vernon. (AP)

Workers prepare to install a 1772 portrait of George Washington by Charles Willson Peale in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum at Mount Vernon. (AP)

Museum services workers roll a crate containing a painting that is the youngest-known depiction of George Washington. (AP)

Museum services workers roll a crate containing a painting that is the youngest-known depiction of George Washington. (AP)

The earliest known portrait of George Washington is on loan from Washington & Lee University. (AP)

The earliest known portrait of George Washington is on loan from Washington & Lee University. (AP)

People are most familiar with paintings of Washington later in his life, like this one by Gilbert Stuart done in 1796. (AP)

People are most familiar with paintings of Washington later in his life, like this one by Gilbert Stuart done in 1796. (AP)

Workers uncrate the valuable painting at George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon in Virginia. (AP)

Workers uncrate the valuable painting at George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon in Virginia. (AP)

Young Washington Comes Home

Posted: March 4, 2019

Screws hold a wooden box closed. A label on top warns: “Keep dry.” What’s inside? George Washington is!

Well, his portrait is. When you look at it, you might be wondering, “What’s wrong with this picture?” This George Washington looks much younger than the face we know from the U.S. dollar bill. And what’s hanging from his chest? It’s a silver pendant. It shows Mr. Washington is a soldier in the British army!

We remember George Washington as the general who led American soldiers in the Revolutionary War against Great Britain. And of course we remember him as the first president of the United States. But before all that, George Washington grew up on a plantation in Virginia. He fought on the side of the British in the French and Indian War. This portrait shows the only painted glimpse we have of Mr. Washington before the American Revolution.

An artist named Charles Willson Peale created the portrait. He visited the Washington home in 1772. Mr. Washington’s wife, Martha, asked him to paint her husband. Mr. Washington sat in front of Mr. Peale for three days while he painted. Then he paid Mr. Peale 18 British pounds. That’s about $2,700 in today’s American money. The painting shows Mr. Washington in his soldier’s uniform. He carries a sword and a paper marked “Orders of March.” But Mr. Washington had been out of the army for more than 10 years! Still, it was stylish to pose in military clothes. Susan P. Schoelwer is an executive director for historic preservation and collections at Mount Vernon. “It has traditionally been suggested that he went up to the attic, got in his trunk, got out his old 1750s uniform and put it on,” she tells the Washington Post.

Now the painting of young Washington is coming back to George Washington’s home, the Mount Vernon plantation. It has not been there since 1802! But this is just a temporary trade. Washington and Lee University has loaned it to Mount Vernon for two years. In exchange, the university is borrowing another painting from Mount Vernon: the 1798 George Washington portrait. You would recognize that one. It is the basis for the picture of Mr. Washington on the dollar bill.