The Met Is Selling This Rare Portrait of George Washington

Portrait of George Washington

The rare George Washington portrait could sell for as much as $2.5 million in January.

A rare portrait of George Washington could sell for as much as $2.5 million at auction next month.

The painting, created by artist Gilbert Stuart, has been in the collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art since 1944. The museum has decided to sell the piece early next year to raise money for its acquisition fund, reports the Art Newspaper’s Carlie Porterfield.

In the portrait, the nation’s first president sits in front of a crimson backdrop while wearing a dark coat atop a white ruffled shirt. His blue eyes gaze directly at the viewer.

Stuart painted the work in late 1795. Around the same time, he also created several other Washington paintings that came to be known collectively as the “Vaughan” series. They are named after John Vaughan, who is thought to have commissioned the original portrait.

Just 14 works from the “Vaughan” series are known to exist today, according to Christie’s. Four are in private hands, while the others are part of various museum and university collections, including the National Gallery of Art and Harvard University.

The Met has two of the paintings: the one going to auction, which is referred to as the Philips-Brixey portrait, and another that’s known as the Gibbs-Channing-Avery portrait.

“The Met annually deaccessions works of art, following comprehensive review with a focus on similar or duplicate objects,” says a museum spokesperson in a statement shared with the Art Newspaper. “The funds from this sale will enable the museum to further prioritize the acquisition of outstanding works of art.”

The piece will be sold during Christie’s Important Americana sale, which is scheduled for January 18 and 19.

Washington sat for the “Vaughan” series in the fall of 1795. Stuart painted or started all of the works in the series soon after.

In early 1796, Washington sat for Stuart for a second time, which resulted in another series known as the “Athenaeum” portraits. Today, those works exist in “far greater numbers,” according to Christie’s.

The painting going to auction has changed hands several times throughout its history. It was first owned by the Philips family, a group of textile merchants who lived in England but supported the Americans during the revolution. It was passed down through many generations until 1923, when it was sold to art dealer Frank T. Sabin.

It was next owned by art dealer Joseph Duveen, who sold it to New York businessman Richard De Wolfe Brixey. When Brixey died in 1943, he left the painting, along with seven others, to the Met.

Given their scarcity, “Vaughan” portraits rarely come to auction. When they do, they tend to command high prices. In 2017, a “Vaughan” artwork sold for $1.3 million. The following year, another such portrait from the collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller sold for $11.5 million.

Next month’s sale also includes other Washington paintings—one created by artist Rembrandt Peale around 1852 and another painted by Edward Hicks between 1835 and 1845—as well as a selection of furniture, flatware and other items.

“This sale is a window into America at the time of the revolution, from the bottom up and top down,” says Cara Zimmerman, head of Americana at Christie’s, to Eric Grossman of Barron’s. “We have folk art made for the people, and we have furniture made for the ‘point-one percenters’ of the day.”

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