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Washington at Princeton
authentication study
& condition assessment

The Department of State has owned this Washington at Princeton portrait since 1989.  An American living in Paris donated the portrait to the Department in her will. At the donor’s request, the portrait has hung in the U.S. Embassy Paris Ambassador’s Residence since that time. It was attributed to Colonial American painter, Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827), but provenance could not be proven through the limited documentation available.

The Office of Cultural Heritage contracted an art historian and art conservator to conduct a careful study of the painting.  The study revealed, with a high degree of confidence, that the painting is, in fact, one of the original versions of Washington at Princeton by Charles Willson Peale, and that it is the Laurens-Albemarle painting.

Washington at Princeton


Charles Willson Peale



Heritage Asset — Art


We thank the American and French partners involved and the Office of Cultural Heritage for their work confirming that our treasured Washington portrait, displayed in the Louis XVI salon of the Ambassador’s Residence for the last 38 years, is in fact the original Charles Willson Peale painting lost to the art world for 60 years.

Ambassador Denise Campbell Bauer, U.S. Ambassador to France and Monaco
Consultants Carol Soltis and Emily MacDonald-Korth examine the Paris portrait for the first time.
CH conservator Lauren Hall, Carol Soltis, and Emily MacDonald-Korth find the “Scott & Fowles” label on the painting’s stretcher.
Emily MacDonald-Korth photographs sections of the portrait under visible light.


Charles Willson Peale is an artist inextricably linked to the American Revolution. Not only were his politics shaped in advance of it, his military and domestic service during the conflict and his creation of portraits documenting many of its participants established a lasting legacy that firmly links him to the events and individuals of the period of the Revolution and the early Republic.

With his access to important American colonial figures, Charles Willson Peale also has the distinction of having painted George Washington from life more than any other painter. Peale’s Washington at Princeton is a portrait conceived as a State Portrait, in the grand manner. Designed to celebrate a national hero and be placed in an impressive space, it is a picture about victory. 

Charles Willson Peale Self-Portrait, c. 1791 (National Portrait Gallery Collection)
Portrait of Henry Lauren, c. 1781, Lemuel Francis Abbott (U.S. Senate Collection)


As a representative of the Continental Congress and minister to the Netherlands, Henry Laurens (1724–1792) was taking the portrait with him aboard the American ship, the Mercury, presumably as a diplomatic gift to Holland while he was conducting negations for a loan from that country’s government. His boat was seized by the British vessel, the HMS Vestal, off the coast of Newfoundland on September 3, 1780 and the portrait of George Washington was seized. Laurens himself was imprisoned in the Tower of London for over a year. 

The captain of the HMS Vestal was Capt. George Keppel (a son of Gen. George Keppel, Lord Albemarle). The portrait was taken to Quiddenham Park, the seat of the Earls of Albemarle, as a spoil of war where it stayed until its sale at a Sotheby’s auction in London in 1946. 


Primary Resource Research

Comparative Study

Forensic Analysis


The findings from this study, conducted over the course of 2022, will inform future conservation of the U.S. Department of State’s Washington at Princeton portrait by Charles Willson Peale.

The Office of Cultural Heritage and U.S. Embassy Paris will collaborate with a committee of experts from the United States and France to oversee the painting’s treatment in Paris. The Franco-American institutional partnerships that helped realize the study will continue to guide the project’s next phase.

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