AP US History
September 17, 2012
When Charles Willson Peale was on the battlefield of Princeton, fighting for the independence of America, he probably wasn’t thinking that he would paint his commander-in-chief as such an honored hero of the revolutionary era. Neither did he know that he would paint America’s first president, a beloved man to this day, being named the founding father of the country. And it sure didn’t cross his mind that he would paint both of these men on the same canvas, with the same colored oils, and would be asked to it replicate eighteen times. Yet after the Battle of Princeton, Peale did exactly that, and painted a victorious George Washington in a battered battlefield in Princeton. In the time leading up to the American Revolution, American colonists were getting frustrated with the British government due to high taxes, no representation in Parliament, and unequal rights compared to British citizens. The First Continental Congress met in 1774 to discuss their disgust with American treatment by the British. This Continental Congress included many of our nation’s founding fathers, including George Washington. A Second Continental Congress was called a year later, where The Declaration of Independence was signed. Washington was elected to lead the Continental Army against the prestigious British army. By this time, most Americans had the thought of independence from Britain implanted in their minds, and America’s focus was now primarily on the war. George Washington was ready to embark on a journey in which he would lead an entire nation to independence and victory. Being in a time of national war, George Washington had a substantial amount of power as commander-in-chief of the army, which we can tell by his dress, his use of a horse, and the prisoners-of-war he has taken in the painting, George Washington at Princeton, painted by Charles Willson Peale.
The dress of George Washington in the painting, George Washington at Princeton, clues at at his importance during the role. American troops didn’t have but the clothes that they arrived with to fight in, which became very dirty and grimy. America didn’t have enough money to supply them with uniforms. As seen in the painting, George Washington is wearing a clean and sharp-looking uniform. His pants are a bright white and he wears high-quality boots that have lasted hard conditions of battle. His coat is of a navy blue in opposition the despised red of the British. All of these uniform characteristics leads to show that George Washington dressed to be noticed by his men. The blue sash across his torso is significant. It is what the Americans used to distinguish officers by. Washington wore a blue sash to display his status of Commander-in-Chief. George Washington learned while under the leadership of British General Edward Braddock, that in order for an officer of high ranking to be successful, he must also appear in such a way that demonstrates a level of professionalism. Washington applied this to himself in the American Revolution as his uniform showed his focus on looking proper. Not only by dressing in the professional way he did show his status as leader of the army, but the nation itself, as the army was the main focus of America in the 1770’s.
In the painting, George Washington at Princeton, there is a brown horse to his right. There is another man in the background holding Washington’s horse in place for him as he poses for the painting. Horses were reserved only for officers at the time of the American Revolution. They would also have specially appointed calvary that would only fight on horses. They were still most common among officers and George Washington would also pick which officers got to use the horses. In the painting, two...