This is the first time I have ever been asked to defend Martha and George Washington.
It would be a tragedy for the artistic heritage of Massachusetts of the Smithsonian wins the current tug of war and Gilbert Stuart's famous paintings are brought to the District of Columbia from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Fortunately, though, a concerned public is beginning to stir in Massachusetts. If the courts don't block the sale, public officials and private citizens in the state are likely to find a way to match the Smithsonian's $5 million offer and keep the paintings home.
I am strongly opposed to the transfer. Boston should no more be asked to give up its manificent Stuart portraits than Philadelphia should be asked to give up the Liberty Bell. That the Smithsonian has this sort of money burning a hole in its pocket should certainly be of interest to the congressional appropriations committees that oversee its budget.
One of the great strengths of the arts in America is that fine works of art are found in communities in every section of the nation. Few paintings are better known to the people of Boston or are a source of greater pride than the Stuart portraits.
One of my earliest memories is of sitting on my grandfather's shoulders at the Museum of Fine Arts, looking straight into the eyes of President Washington and savoring tales I was being told. Honey Fitz, my mother's father, had been a congressman and mayor of the city, and he loved to take his grandchildren on Sunday afternoon outings to the city's museums and famous sites. As a patron of both the Athenaeum and the Museum of Fine Arts, he knew their collections well. He used to stop in front of the Stuart portraits and other historical paintings he loved, and give me some of the most enjoyable history lessons I ever had. And so, for purely personel and sentimental considerations, I don't think the portraits should leave Boston.
Another reason that Martha and George should not be brought to Washington is that they probably wouldn't like it there. One can imagine a conversation the portraits might be having with each other in the hours after the Boston Museum closed.
George would, of course, express pleasure that a city had been named after him, and he would surely be impressed by the sum- $5 million-the Smithsonian was prepared to pay. But the telling arguments would be Martha's, who would point out quietly but firmly that no one has a kind word for the city of Washington anymore, and that the two of them would be far better off keeping their distance from their namesake. Most persuasively, she would remind him that Boston has been their home for almost 150 years-good years-and that it would be a show of unpardonable disloyalty to leave the city, no matter how good the money.
At the word "disloyalty," George would stiffen, conceding that his wife had made the decisive point. CAPTION: Picture, no caption