George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Joseph Brown, 30 May 1786

To Joseph Brown

Mount Vernon 30th May 1786.


I have been favored with your letter of the 12th of September, & thank you for the prints which accompanied it, by the Ship Potomac which arrived safely.1 The frames of these pictures are quite equal to my wishes, & you will please to accept my best acknowledgments of it; & assurances that an apology for their being inferior to those sent to Congress, was altogether unnecessary.

It gives me concern to learn from yourself, that the late War has been so injurious to your income, and so destructive of your hopes. My best wishes will attend any plan you may adopt for the perfect restoration of both. Of the obliging expressions of your letter, as they respect myself, I have a grateful sense, & am, Sir &c.

G: Washington


Joseph Brown, a publisher in London, bought two bust-length portraits by Charles Willson Peale, one of GW and one of Nathanael Greene, which Peale had sent over “to get plates engraved” (Peale to Benjamin West, 10 Dec. 1783, in Miller, Peale Papers, description begins Lillian B. Miller, ed. The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family. 4 vols. New Haven, 1983–96. description ends 1:404–5). Brown had the English artist, Thomas Stothard, make “drawings based on the paintings, transforming the portraits into full-length figures and adding background details” and had Valentine Green engrave the mezzotints (Wick, Graphic Portraits of Washington, description begins Wendy C. Wick. George Washington, an American Icon: The Eighteenth-Century Graphic Portraits. Washington, D.C., 1982. description ends 31). On 12 Sept. Brown wrote to Greene, GW, and Charles Thomson, secretary of Congress, that he was sending to each of them copies of his engravings of the portraits of GW and Greene. See note 1. On 25 Nov. 1785 GW wrote Edward Newenham that he had “a mezzotinto print [of Nathanael Greene], sent to me a few days ago only, by the publisher a Mr Brown at No. 10 George Yard, Lombard street, London.” Brown wrote Thomson on 15 April 1786 from London saying that he had received Thomson’s acknowledgment of receipt of the two prints made for Congress. He also wrote: “I addressed a Letter by Captn Cooper to General Washington which was forwarded at same time; but as neither of those Gentn [GW nor Greene] have honored me by the least notice of either the prints, or the Letters I am apprehensive they have not been received” (DNA:PCC, item 78). Brown’s full-length portrait of GW, engraved by Valentine Green and published on 22 April 1785, shows GW standing by a cannon with the rear end of his horse to his right (Eisen, Portraits of Washington, description begins Gustavus A. Eisen. Portraits of Washington. 3 vols. New York, 1932. description ends 2:588). The two Peale portraits are in the Montclair (N.J.) Art Museum.

1Brown’s letter to GW of 12 Sept. 1785 has not been found, but the wording of Brown’s letter to Nathanael Greene of that date indicates that he wrote identical letters to both men. The letter to Greene reads: “The reputation you deservedly acquired in the late War; a war which as a member of the Corporation of this City, I gave the utmost opposition to, long before I had the least apprehension that it would prove fatal to my Fortune, & cost me a situation in which as a Wholesale dealer I was clearing with great reputation near Two thousand Pounds per annum: I say the honor you acquired induced me to be very sollicitous to posess myself of a good likeness of you; I obtained it of the late General [Joseph] Reid, who brot over half length portraits both of your Excellency & of General Washington: I have been happy in the idea that the likenesess are good, & engaging one of our most eminent Artists [Thomas Stothard] to draw them at Whole-length I sat for the deliniation of your Person.

“Those who have the honor of your Acquaintance assured me that they would make good prints; I therefore spared no expence to complete them & have done myself the pleasure to send one pair of them in a small Case per the Edward Captn Cooper, bound for New York; they are addressed to the care of Chas. Thompson Esqr. who I have requested to take the trouble to forward them, to You; Give my leave to hope they will prove acceptable.

“I have also sent a pair of them dedicated to Congress, & framed in the best style I was capable of designing; I am exceedingly sorry, I could not before the Ships departure get yours & the pair I have sent to his Excellency General Washington, framed in the same manner as those are wch I have sent to Congress.

“America must for ever look up to your Excellencys as instruments in the hand of providence who rescued her from the tyrany of a corrupt Government. I therefore flatter myself when these prints are seen on your Continent that the number of orders I shall be honored with, will reimburse the expence attending the publication; at all events I have unspeakable pleasure in paying this tribute of respect to your distinguished merit—merit which has rendered you the admiration of the present Age & illustrious to posterity” (MiU-C). Charles Thomson enclosed this letter in his letter to Greene of 2 Dec. 1785.

Earlier, on 9 May 1785, Brown wrote Charles Thomson: “I have shiped a Case directed to you, containing one set of Proof impressions framed and glazed, of General Washington & General Green; in the same Case two other sets of prints of those illustrious Men, are packed, which I must request the favor of you to take the trouble to forward; viz. one set, to each of them, together wth Letters which it is my intention to take leave to write them, & shall inclose under cover to You” (DNA:PCC, item 78). On 3 Aug. Brown wrote Thomson that the prints did not reach the ship before it sailed, and so he “ordered them back, and perceiving that the countenance of General Washington could be improved in the print to a nearer resemblance of that benign chearfulness which distinguishes that excellent man, I had the plate altered; The face is shortened, enlivened and in my opinion so much improved for the better that I do not regret my first disappointment” (DNA:PCC, item 123). In his letter of 12 Sept. 1785 to Thomson, Brown wrote that he was sending by the Edward “Two framed Impressions” of Greene and GW and expressed the hope that Congress “will do me the honor to accept these Impressions, and deem them worthy of being placed near the seat of their deliberations” (DNA:PCC, item 123).

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