Following his death in 1799, George Washington seemed “above the clouds,” to paraphrase the general’s most popular biographer, Mason Locke Weems. The glorification of Washington continued for more than a century, culminating in the romanticized and popular history paintings of the Philadelphia artist Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930). These canvases present a remarkably appealing and virtuous figure but provide limited reliable information about the “Father” of our country. This show presents 13 original paintings by Ferris along with 17 historical records that reveal facts about Washington’s actual life. These letters, surveys, maps, and farm records reintroduce the actual man.
“Lighthorse Harry” Lee famously eulogized that Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen. . . . The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues.” Washington: The Myths and the Man focuses on Washington’s private life at Mount Vernon to reveal what motivated Washington the public servant.