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George Washington by Joseph Wright (Engraving)

Artist/Maker: Joseph Wright (1756-1793)[1]

Created: 1790

Origin/Purchase: London

Materials: drypoint etching

Dimensions: 7 x 5.1 (2 3/4 x 2 in.)

Provenance: McAlpin Collection, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.

Historical Notes: Jefferson judged Joseph Wright's portrait of George Washington very highly. "I have no hesitation in pronouncing Wright's drawing to be a better likeness of the General than Peale's," he wrote in 1795.[2] Wright painted a portrait of Washington for Jefferson in 1784 and planned to have a drawing, which was made at the same time, engraved in London by Parience Wright, his mother and a prominent sculptor.

In January 1786, the engraving still had not been made. Jefferson wrote:

"before the painter would agree to draw it for me, he made me promise not to permit any copy of it to be taken till his mother in London should have time to have an engraving from one which he drew out at the same time, and also to dispose of the engravings. Twenty months have now elapsed, and I can neither learn that they have made any engraving from the picture, nor get an answer from the painter."[3]

The engraving apparently was never made.

Wright, however, did make a small drypoint etching in New York in 1790, and Jefferson acquired two of them. He purchased the first on 10 June, noting in his Memorandum Book, "pd for print of the President by Wright 8/." and the second on June 23, "pd. for another engraving of General Washington by Wright 8/." On June 27, he sent one to his daughter Martha: "I now inclose you an engraving of the President done by Wright who drew the picture of him which I have at Paris."[4] Jefferson displayed his in the Tea Room at Monticello.

This image, showing Washington in profile, "was widely copied in prints, medallions, relief cuts, and medals both here and abroad."[5] Jefferson's engravings are unlocated.


  1. This article is based on Stein, Worlds, 166.
  2. Thomas Jefferson to Barre, Paris, July 11, 1785, in PTJ, 8:282. Letterpress copy available online from the Library of Congress.
  3. Jefferson to Thevenard, Paris, January 13, 1786, in Ibid, 9:9:173-174.
  4. Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph, New York, June 27, 1790, in Ibid, 16:577-578.
  5. Wendy C. Wick, George Washington: An American Icon (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, 1982), 101.

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