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The One and the Many: Authenticity and Multiplicity in the Posthumous Lives of George Washington's Portraits

King, Isaac (2020) The One and the Many: Authenticity and Multiplicity in the Posthumous Lives of George Washington's Portraits. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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George Washington’s singular national prominence in American patriotic memory has placed his portraits in a state of continual reassessment and has made them a well-documented target of historical, political, and popular scrutiny. After his death in 1799, these portraits became a visual embodiment of his absent presence and played a key role in defining an American national portrait tradition. His portraits became potent objects through which the American public could actualize their desires to preserve, multiply, and sacralize Washington’s memory. However, in order to allow them to function in this way, the public increasingly demanded assurances that their portraits were authentic representations of Washington’s person.

In this dissertation I examine the reception history of these portraits from Washington’s death to the end of the nineteenth century. I argue that the level of sustained interest granted to these portraits over this period make them an ideal case for investigating changing notions of authenticity in portraiture. As an impressive range of artist, collectors, printsellers, publishers, historians, and politicians grappled with the demand for authentic records of Washington’s appearance, they interrogated an assortment of cultural considerations regarding which types of evidence granted authority to a portrait, and which did not.

Spanning a key historical moment that begins with portraiture, biography, and nationalism expanding to permeate all layers of American society and continuing through to the development and rapid spread of photography, the representational paradigms of portraiture during this period were in a state of profound flux. As various portraits of Washington were interpreted, and reinterpreted, by those hoping to garner public confidence in one representation or another, the often abstract ideas that stabilize links between signifier and signified were put to practical use. This dissertation examines three case studies that provide insight into the changing notion of authenticity in early American national portraiture through the posthumous lives of Washington’s portraits.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
King, Isaaciok4@pitt.eduiok40000-0001-8666-418X
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairSavage, Kirk
Committee MemberArmstrong, Christopher
Committee MemberFozi, Shirin
Committee MemberHoock, Holger
Date: 8 June 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 8 April 2020
Approval Date: 8 June 2020
Submission Date: 6 April 2020
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 249
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History of Art and Architecture
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: George Washington, portraiture, portraits, national, reproduction, copy, likeness, authenticity, authority, posthumous, physiognomy, painting, sculpture, print, illustrated biography, Rembrandt Peale, Jean-Antoine Houdon, Joseph Delaplaine, John Henri Isaac Browere, early American, composite portrait, Joshua Reynolds, Johann Kaspar Lavater, Charles Caldwell, Gilbert Stuart, portrait gallery, natural history, pointing machine,
Date Deposited: 08 Jun 2020 16:32
Last Modified: 08 Jun 2022 05:15

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