George Washington and William Lee (George Washington)

John Trumbull American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 774

In this famous painting by John Trumbull, Washington is depicted standing on a bluff above the Hudson River with a Black figure assumed to be William Lee—his enslaved valet, groom, and military aide. Trumbull had served on Washington’s staff as an aide-de-camp early in the Revolutionary War. He painted this work from memory years later, while studying in London. It was the first authoritative portrayal of Washington available in Europe, and was soon widely copied. Trumbull would have known Lee from their wartime service, yet chose to depict him unnaturalistically in a turban, based on a European "orientalist" convention associated with Black figures. An accurate visual portrait of Lee—who Washington freed and granted an annuity in his will—is unknown.

George Washington and William Lee (George Washington), John Trumbull (American, Lebanon, Connecticut 1756–1843 New York), Oil on canvas, American

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