Another multimillion-dollar portrait of George Washington has appeared on the art market.
This one, by John Trumbull (1756-1843), was found five years ago in a mansion south of Glasgow, Scotland, by a well-known New York dealer who hopes to sell it "to a major American museum, or, perhaps, the White House" for a price "in the vicinity of $4 million."
Should he get his asking price, the Trumbull would become the most expensive American painting ever sold.
The dealer, Richard Feigen, said yesterday that he has arranged to show the Trumbull picture to Marvin Sadik, the director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery here. It is Sadik's institution that has been attempting to pay $5 million for the smaller, but more famous, Gilbert Stuart portraits of George and martha Washington that remain in the possession of the Boston Athenaeum.
"Sure, I'll go take a look at the Trumbull," Sadik said. "But until, and unless, the Athenaeum business is settled, we couldn't even consider buying it."
The Athenaeum sale was put on hold last year while a group of Boston citizens tried to raise $5 million to buy the works for Boston. But their fund drive, it turns out, fell $4 million short. On Monday, the regents of the Smithsonian Institution told Sadik that the time had come to reopen discussions with the Boston Athenaeum.
Stuart's likeliness of George Washington is on the dollar bill. Trumbull's image, says Feigen, has appeared on one Romanian and five American postage stamps.
The full-length Trumbull portrait isthe second version of a painting that has been at Yale since 1806. It shows the general at war. He is standing by his white horse; soldiers, in the background, are battling for Trenton. "I agree the Stuarts are icons," said Feigen. "But when it comes to quality, there is really no comparison. The Trumbull is a better painting by a better painter.It's a staggering work of art."
The dealer said he saw the picture first while on a weekend visit to a friend, a Scottish peer. "I came down to breakfast and there it was," said Feigen. "It bowled me over.
"I told my host he owned an American national treasure. He eventually agreed to sell it -- but with the stipulation that it go to an American institution of national importance."
Feigen does not own it.Instead, he organized "an intermediary trust," a group of investors who purchased the work, brought it to New York on Sunday night, an now intends to sell it. "Through my gallery," said Feigen. s
The famous version of "George Washington at Trenton" was commissioned from Trumbull by the citizens of Charleston, N.C. "They were upset by its romanticism, and gave it back to Trumbull," said Feigen. "It went eventually to Yale."
How the second picture ended up in Scotland is not altogether clear.
"Trumbull went to London in 1792 as the secretary to the Jay Treaty Commission," said Feigen."I suspect he made the painting while he was there. It was acquired soon thereafter by Viscount Mount Stuart, a friend of Boswell's, and a partisan of the American cause. Viscount Mount Stuart became the fourth earl of Bute in 1792, and the first marquis of Bute in 1796. Bute is an island off the west coast of Scotland. Feigen said the painting, which is nearly 8 feet high and more than 5 feet wide, had been in "the family mansions ever since."