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The Art of Realism

Re-presenting Art: Copies and Reproductions
Thomas Sully<br/>American, 1783–1872<br/><em>Portrait of George Washington, (1732–1799)</em>, c. 1820 <br/>Oil on canvas <br/>The William Hood Dunwoody Fund.
  Thomas Sully
American, 1783–1872
Portrait of George Washington, (1732–1799), c. 1820
Oil on canvas
The William Hood Dunwoody Fund.


This portrait of George Washington is actually a copy of Gilbert Stuart's iconic Landsdowne Portrait, originally completed in 1796. Stuart's portrait of Washington proved so popular, many banks, civic buildings, and museums requested copies of the painting. With Stuart's permission, Thomas Sully began painting replicas because Stuart could not fill the orders by himself.

Both Stuart's and Sully's portraits depict Washington as a hero. Washington, the nation's first president, helped unify and lead the new country, even in the face of political disagreements and foreign threats. Both paintings show Washington's strong nature through his physical stance, in addition to subtle icons; his sword, for instance, represents his military background, while his simple black suit shows him to be one of "the people," instead of a privileged and out-of-touch monarch.

The two portraits are very similar, but not exact. While Stuart's portrait shows Washington holding out his hand, Sully placed Washington's hand on the Constitution, symbolizing his connection to this important document.

Compare Sully's portrait to the original painting at the National Gallery to see what other differences you can find.

Do you think Sully's copy of Stuart's painting has its own artistic value? Why or why not?

Is this copy worthy of being in a museum? What makes you say that?

Do you think this painting is important because it re-presents an iconic painting, or does it have merit on its own as a well-produced artwork?

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1. This is essentially a miniature museum of selected works by artist Marcel Duchamp. Beginning in 1936, Duchamp began making miniature reproductions of his own artwork. He made 350 of these miniature museums. Marcel Duchamp, American (born France), 1887–1968. Boite-en-Valise (Box in a suitcase), conceived 1936–1941; assembled 1961. Linen-covered box containing mixed media assemblage/collage of miniature replicas, photographs, and color reproductions of works by Duchamp. The William Hood Dunwoody Fund, © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Estate of Marcel Duchamp.
2. The Doryphoros is a Roman copy of an original Greek bronze statue. About four remain in the world. It's considered a precious work of art in spite of being a copy. What do you think gives the Doryphoros its value? Roman, The Doryphoros, 120–50 BCE, Pentelic marble. The John R. Van Derlip Fund and gift of funds from Bruce B. Dayton, an anonymous donor, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Dayton, Mr. and Mrs. W. John Driscoll, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Harrison, Mr. and Mrs. John Andrus, Mr. and Mrs. Judson Dayton, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Keating, Mr. and Mrs. Pierce McNally, Mr. and Mrs. Donald Dayton, Mr. and Mrs. Wayne MacFarlane, and many other generous friends of the Institute.


January 2013