The Sword Myth
The portrait from the original Figure It Out Friday post is NOT the famous Gilbert Stuart "Landsdowne" portrait that was saved by Dolley Madison before the British burned the White House, but the portrait painted by John Vanderlyn which hangs in the U.S. House of Representatives Chamber in the U.S. Capitol.
The full-length portrait of George Washington that hangs in the East Room of the White House is one of several copies painted by Gilbert Stuart of his "Landsdowne" portrait. It is the only object known from the original White House that has continuously remained there except during the various periods of reconstruction.
The Vanderlyn portrait of George Washington that hangs at the right of the Speaker's rostrum, is the real subject of this post. You probably noticed it during the annual "State of the Union Address".
This portrait was commissioned in 1834 from American artist John Vanderlyn as a companion to the portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette. The portrait is life-size and depicts Washington standing at a desk next to a window, with a chair and red drapery behind him. Washington directs his glance at the viewer. He is wearing a black suit with a lace-collar shirt, typical of Revolutionary times.
For years I had heard from the U.S. Capitol Guide Service guides that the sword on the Vanderlyn painting had been, 'painted out' because it is against the rules for a House Member to have a side arm on the 'Floor of the House'. This is patently untrue; a sword was never a part of this portrait. It emphasizes President Washington's statesmanship.
The office of the Clerk of the House has a wonderful inter-active website about the This will give you a far more detailed account of Vanderlyn's life and association with Aaron Burr.