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George Washington

Kemmelmeyer, Frederick
Place Made:
Maryland United States of America
Date Made:
oil on paper
HOA: 21 3/4; WOA: 17 3/4
Accession Number:
SUBJECT: George Washington (1732-1799) was a subject that the artist Frederick Kemmelmeyer frequently returned to. In addition to works history-style paintings celebrating Washington’s military victories, the artist also produced embellished portraits. The strong demand for portraits of the father of the country was probably an important motivation for the artist. This cameo-style portrait, with its use of gilding to highlight details of Washington’s uniform, emphasizes Washington as a great military leader, in contrast to the presidential image created and popularized by Gilbert Stuart that shows Washington in civilian attire.

ARTIST: Frederick Kemmelmeyer (b.1752-1753; d.1820-1825) was a Hessian soldier and doctor. Research by A. Nicholas Powers now places Kemmelmeyer in America as early as 1776. Following the American Revolution Kemmelmeyer settled in Charleston, South Carolina, where documents suggest he married, fathered a child, and got divorced.

Sometime between 1784 and 1788 he moved to Baltimore, Maryland. He first advertised on June 3, 1788 in the Maryland Gazette that he had “opened a Drawing-School for young Gentlemen.” He later advertised as a portrait painter in miniature and watercolor and announced the establishment of “An Evening Drawing-School for the instruction of young gentlemen who many have a desire of learning that polite art.” Between 1803 and 1805 Kemmelmeyer worked in the District of Columbia.

The final years of Kemmelmeyer’s career were spent western Maryland and the Valley of Virginia. During this period he advertised appear in Hagerstown and Frederick newspapers. His last known advertisement is dated 1816.

In Charleston, Baltimore, and the Valley of Virginia, Kemmelmeyer was closely associated with the German-speaking Lutheran community.

Kemmelmeyer is best known for his military paintings featuring General George Washington including two versions of “George Washington Reviewing the Western Army…” at the Winterthur Museum (WM acc. 1958.2780) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA acc. 62.201.2) as well as his portraits of Washington (MESDA acc. 3814).

REFERENCES: A. Nicholas Powers, “Research Note: Frederick Kemmelmeyer—From Hessian Soldier to American Artist,” Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts, vol. 34, 2013.

DESCRIPTION: Portrait, oil on paper mounted on late 18th/early 19th century linen/ canvas. Portrait of man in uniform. The painting is in an oval shape surrounded by a painted garland of bellflowers topped with a star. This gives a miniature appearance on the paper. The man wears a wig tied in back, a white stock below his uniform with epaulets on shoulders. He has pox scars on his face.

Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund