How far the portraits of Washington conveyed his expression is open to
question. The quotation already given which said that no picture
accurately resembled him in the minute traits of his person is
worth noting. Furthermore, his expression varied much according to
circumstances, and the painter saw it only in repose. The first time he
was drawn, he wrote a friend, "Inclination having yielded to Importunity,
I am now contrary to all expectation under the hands of Mr. Peale; but in
so grave—so sullen a mood—and now and then under the influence of
Morpheus, when some critical strokes are making, that I fancy the skill of
this Gentleman's Pencil will be put to it, in describing to the World what
manner of man I am." This passiveness seems to have seized him at other
sittings, for in 1785 he wrote to a friend who asked him to be painted,
"In for a penny, in for a Pound, is an old adage. I am so hackneyed to
the touches of the painter's pencil that I am now altogether at their
beck; and sit 'like Patience on a monument,' whilst they are delineating
the lines of my face. It is a proof, among many others, of what habit and
custom can accomplish. At first I was as impatient at the request, and as
restive under the operation, as a colt is of the saddle. The next time I
submitted very reluctantly, but with less flouncing. Now, no dray-horse
moves more readily to his thills than I to the painter's chair." His aide,
Laurens, bears this out by writing of a miniature, "The defects of this
portrait are, that the visage is too long, and old age is too strongly
marked in it. He is not altogether mistaken, with respect to the languor
of the general's eye; for altho' his countenance when affected either by
joy or anger, is full of expression, yet when the muscles are in a state
of repose, his eye certainly wants animation."
One portrait which furnished Washington not a little amusement was an
engraving issued in London in 1775, when interest in the "rebel General"
was great. This likeness, it is needless to say, was entirely spurious,
and when Reed sent a copy to head-quarters, Washington wrote to him, "Mrs.
Washington desires I will thank you for the picture sent her. Mr.
Campbell, whom I never saw, to my knowledge, has made a very formidable
figure of the Commander-in-chief, giving him a sufficient portion of
terror in his countenance."