Portraits of the Artist as America’s Founding Fathers

The iconic portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and the other men who founded America have one characteristic in common: they each resemble the artist's own self-portrait.

Even though thousands of portraits by European artists resemble the artist as much as the sitter, it still shocks to discover that across the Atlantic the same pattern continued. In the New World where examples of great European art were few and far between American artists of the 18th and 19th centuries still understood that self-representation was the underlying theme without which painting could not be art. Yet, even today, art scholars and museum curators everywhere continue to insist that capturing an accurate likeness of the sitter was the principal goal and object of a portraitist. The visual evidence here suggests not...

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