Pair of George and Martha Washington Painted Portraits by E.C. Middleton, Circa 1861

Designed to be a pair, these pendant paintings of George and Martha Washington were made to look like expensive oil paintings. The unknown artist used Gilbert Stuart’s original and unfinished Athenaeum portraits of the pair as a reference for the artist’s own work. The seated position, ¾ portrait, and clothing for each figure (dark coat and white ruff for George and white bonnet for Martha) are all based off of Stuart’s portraits. In 1796, Martha Washington had commissioned Stuart to paint two pendants of her and George with the stipulation that she will keep it once he finished the works. Stuart ended up liking his portrait of George so much he purposefully did not finish the portraits so that he could use it to make more George portraits to sell before giving it to Martha. After Stuart’s death, the unfinished portraits were bought by the Boston Athenaeum and used as studies for art students. The George portrait was regarded as the best likeness to the Father of Our Country and was used as a starting point for nearly every portrait of George or Martha. Where Stuart’s work was unfinished, this artist added in missing portions to produce two completed likenesses of the husband and wife.

The printer, E.C. Middleton is considered one of the pioneers of oil-based chromolithographs. Whereas colored lithographs were produced by hand-painting black prints or overlaying limited colors of ink onto the paper, this chromolithograph method used oil-like materials overlaid to produce a finished work that closely resembled an oil painting. Oil paintings were very expensive and restricted to the upper class, however, this newly invented method produced an inexpensive way for the middle class to have fine art. Chromolithographs were considered democratized art, but they still could take months to produce. In order to finish just one type of print, the artist would have to make a separate plate for every color used. Despite all of the work to produce plates for a single product, the “chromo” prints were still much easier to produce than a true painting and the heavy inks prevented the color from quickly fading. Upon first glance, people today still have trouble distinguishing the prints from paintings, preserving the chromolithograph’s goal to bring fine arts to the masses.

CONDITION:

Overall good condition. The two frames have had some conservation done, filling in small areas of gilt loss and stabilizing cracks in the frame from age. Otherwise, the prints are in very good condition. The back of the portraits have a stamp that reads “Enacted According to Act of Congress in the year 1861 by E.C. Middleton in the Clerk’s Office at the District Court for the Northern District of Ohio CINCINNATI.”

Framed dimensions: 22” H x 19” W x 1.5” D (each)




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