LE MIRE (1729-1804), Noël after Jean Baptiste LE PAON )1738-1785)
[Le Général Washington ne quid detrimenti capiat res publica - gravé d'après le tableau original appartenant a Mr. Marquis de la Fayette]
[France: circa 1780]. Line engraving. Proof before title, state ii/iv. Image size: 16 11/16 x 12 11/16 inches.
An impressive proof impression of this famous portrait of George Washington, and one of the first accurate likenesses of the General to be produced in Europe.
This is a remarkably rare proof impression of this fascinating portrait of George Washington, and one of the earliest European prints to produce an accurate likeness of this celebrated American hero. Public curiosity for prints of Revolutionary heroes was not limited to America but spread to the English and European print shops, where an inquisitive audience clamored for a glimpse of the key figures of the war. One of the first correct likenesses of Washington to make its way over to Europe was Charles Wilson Peale's magnificent painting. At this time Peale had executed a number of similar portraits of Washington and so it is impossible to determine which exact painting was taken to France. The inscription on Le Mire's print informs us that Le Paon based his portrait on a painting of Washington he saw in the collection of the Marquis de Lafayette. This verifies since Washington's countenance and stance in Le Paon's portrait and Le Mire's engraving, echo Peale's fine portraits. Washington's face and uniform are identical as are his stance and gestures; his hand cupped inside his vest was used repeatedly by Peale in his series of works on the General. A very similar companion portrait of Lafayette was also executed by Le Paon and Le Mire which makes the link between Peale's painting and this image almost definitive.
By adding a more complicated composition, Le Mire's has converted Peale's simplified portrait to suit European taste. Washington is cloaked in the grand tradition of French portraiture. A simple background has been changed to show a military encampment, and the scattered papers act as a symbol of his involvement in the Revolution. The inclusion of a horse and groomsman shows the more decorative style of French portraiture, and the complex composition and meticulous details combine to create an image that reflects the taste of its European audience. In his hand Washington holds a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Alliance and he stands on a mound of shredded British conciliatory bills. This engraving is an indicator of Washington's image in Europe; he is pictured as a powerful military and political leader and a genteel figure whose sagacity and expertise over threw British rule in America.
Hart, Catalogue of Engraved Portraits of Washington 31, ii/iv; Wick, George Washington an American Icon p.28-33; Fowble, Two Centuries of Prints in America 1680-1880 no.81; Cresswell, The American Revolution in Drawings and Prints no.229; Baker 21.