Washington and Lee University is swapping its Lee Chapel portrait of George Washington in a military uniform for one currently hanging at Mount Vernon of the first president in civilian clothing.
The university is loaning “George Washington as Colonel in the Virginia Regiment” by Charles Willson Peale to Mount Vernon, where it will hang in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center for the next two years.
In return, Mount Vernon is loaning its portrait of Washington by Gilbert Stuart. The portrait is a replica that Stuart also painted during Washington’s second term based on his 1795 original, known as the “Athenaeum” version, and is the same image of the president that appears on the $1 bill.
The same year that Washington sat for the “Athenaeum” portrait, he donated $20,000 worth of James River Canal stock to the struggling Liberty Hall Academy, Washington and Lee’s predecessor. The trustees renamed the school Washington Academy to express their gratitude, according to a news release issued Tuesday by the university.
“Bringing the Stuart portrait to our campus allows us to better tell the story of George Washington’s pivotal gift to the university while simultaneously expanding the audience for the Peale portrait, which is truly one of a kind,” W&L President William Dudley said in the release.
In August, Dudley sent a letter to the Washington and Lee community that said the university planned to replace the portraits of Washington and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that were hanging in Lee Chapel at the time. Both portraits showed the men in military uniforms and hung on either side of the chapel’s stage.
Dudley’s letter came in response to recommendations from the university’s Commission on Institutional History and Community, which he created following the white supremacist marches in Charlottesville last year. Dudley tasked the commission with evaluating the role of the university and its founders in Confederate history and the school’s institutional ties to slavery.
Soon after surrendering his Confederate army at Appomattox Court House in 1865, Lee served as the president of Washington College until his death on campus in 1870, when his name was added to the institution’s. A central building to campus life is Lee Chapel, where the general and his family are buried.
The commission recommended replacing the portrait of Lee in military uniform to one in civilian clothing, but it did not make a recommendation on Washington’s portrait, which depicts the uniform he wore as a young officer during the French and Indian War.
The university replaced the portrait of Lee in mid-October with a painting from its own collection.
The new portrait of Washington will go on public view in mid-December.
The university’s loan of the Washington portrait will initially last two years, with the option to renew. Doug Bradburn, president and CEO of Mount Vernon, said in a statement the museum was excited to display the Washington and Lee portrait, which was painted at Mount Vernon and displayed there during the lives of Washington and his wife Martha.
“Visitors from around the world will get a chance to see George Washington in the vigor of youth, before the years of toil and sacrifice had aged him, and I believe it will inspire millions to connect with and learn from the lessons of the past,” Bradburn said in the statement.
Washington and Lee said that eventually its portrait “will return to a place of honor” in a new museum focused on the university’s history.
The university is currently in the process of hiring a director of institutional history, who will oversee the planning, development and construction of the museum.