George Washington
George Washington, A National Treasure
The Portrait Kids Washington's Life Exhibition Calendar
Portrait for Kids
The Patriot Papers
Teacher Guide
Family Guide
Experience... is the best rule to walk by. --George Washington to John Parke Curtis, West Point, August 24, 1779


Teacher Guide


  • To explain the definition of a portrait
  • To study the reproduction portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart
  • To identify the visual clues that the artist included in the portrait
  • To compare this reproduction portrait to other images of Washington
  • To discuss the importance of portraits as visual records and historical documents

Related standards in historical thinking:

  • Chronological thinking: distinguish between past, present, and future time
  • Historical comprehension: draw upon visual sources
  • Historical analysis and interpretation: formulate questions to focus inquiry or analysis; hypothesize the influence of the past
  • Historical research capabilities: formulate historical questions; obtain historical data; marshal needed knowledge of the time and place to construct a story, explanation, or historical narrative


  • “Looking at a National Treasure: George Washington by Gilbert Stuart” student worksheet (see below)
  • “Looking at a National Treasure: George Washington by Gilbert Stuart” background information (see below)
  • Poster of the portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart (Order form)
  • Pencils or pens

  1. Convey the following information about portraiture to the students:
    1. A portrait is a likeness of a person.
    2. A portrait can be a painting, photograph, drawing, or sculpture (these are called media).
    3. Different materials (paint and canvas, pencil, chalk, clay, bronze, camera and film) can be used to create a portrait in each media.
    4. A portrait gives clues about the sitter’s appearance and character.
    5. The sitter or the person represented in the portrait does not have to be famous.

  2. Ask the students to describe any portraits they have seen or made.

  3. Ask the students to think about ways that a portrait serves as a historical document. Ask this question again after they have finished studying the portrait of Washington and completing the worksheet.

  4. Display the poster in a prominent place in the room.

  5. Distribute the “Looking at a National Treasure: George Washington by Gilbert Stuart” worksheet and background information to each student.

  6. Allow the students, individually or in small groups, to spend time looking at the portrait of George Washington. If possible, they should complete the worksheet while looking at the portrait. They should read the background information after they have finished the worksheet.

  7. Have a class discussion to review the students’ answers and observations.

  8. Ask the students to write a title or caption for the portrait. If appropriate, display their suggestions with the portrait.

  9. Ask the students to look for other portraits of George Washington. They can look at paper and coin currency, newspapers, magazines, books, etc., to find other images. If possible, they should bring the images (photocopies or originals) to school. If they cannot bring in the images, they should write or draw descriptions of them.

  10. Create a classroom display or collage of the Washington portraits. Ask the students to compare their images to the Lansdowne portrait.

  11. Have a class discussion about how images of George Washington are used today in popular culture. Discuss what characteristics, myths, or virtues we associate with his image.

Student Worksheet

Looking at a National Treasure: George Washington by Gilbert Stuart

A portrait is an image or a likeness of a person. Looking at portraits is one way to learn about people from the past. A portrait can inform the viewer about the sitter’s appearance as well as the person’s character. Many portraits include visual clues that give more information about the sitter. The background or setting of a portrait may also reveal something about the sitter’s job, interests, and place (status) in society.

Spend some time looking at this reproduction of a portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart and then complete this worksheet. After you have finished, read the background information that follows.

  1. Does this image portray Washington at the beginning of his career or near the end?

    beginning____ end____

  2. What visual information led you to this conclusion?

  3. Does Washington look comfortable with what he is doing?

    yes_____ no_____

    Explain, using your observations.

  4. In what way(s) does the portrait show Washington’s accomplishments?

  5. What objects do you see that might represent these accomplishments?

    ______________________ _______________________ _______________________ _______________________ ________________________ ________________________

  6. Describe what Washington is wearing.

  7. Is this outfit appropriate for an American President? yes____ no____

    Why or why not?

  8. What would a general wear?

  9. What would a king wear?

  10. What does George Washington look like he is about to do?

  11. Which part of this portrait captures your attention most? (Circle one)

    face hands body setting of the room


  12. Imagine that the artist asked you to pose for this portrait. Try to position your head, body, feet, and arms in a way that is similar to the portrait. Stand very still. Don’t move. Stand a little longer! How does it feel? How long do you think you could hold that position?

  13. Have you seen other images of Washington before?

    yes____ no____

    If yes, which ones?_____________________________________________________________

  14. Do they depict Washington as a young man or as an older gentleman?

  15. Do they depict his whole body or just his head?

  16. Is he wearing a military uniform or civilian clothes?

  17. Are there any significant objects included in the portrait that give you more information or clues about him?

  18. Compare your answers with your classmates’ answers. How many different portraits did your class think of?

  19. Explain why you think George Washington is considered a national treasure.

  20. Are there any schools, roads, buildings, bridges, or monuments in your area named for George Washington? Make a list of those places. How many geographical locations (e.g., states, cities, towns, bodies of water) can you list? If you’re stuck, try using an atlas.

Background Information

Looking at a National Treasure: George Washington by Gilbert Stuart

Read this after you have completed the worksheet.

During his lifetime, George Washington sat for many painters and sculptors. He did not particularly enjoy sitting for artists, but he accepted their requests out of a sense of duty and an appreciation for his role in the country.

Gilbert Stuart, one of the most talented portrait painters in American history, was the artist for this portrait. It was arranged and paid for by Senator and Mrs. William Bingham of Philadelphia as a gift to the Marquis of Lansdowne, a British admirer of Washington.

Stuart understood the importance of his subject and wanted to create a portrait for posterity – one whose significance would last a long time. He thought carefully about the most meaningful way to portray Washington, the leader of the country and a symbol of the nation’s great experiment.

To help him depict Washington’s face more accurately, Stuart asked the President to sit for him. Although tired of sitting for artists, Washington agreed. Stuart then completed the rest of the painting without Washington present. Later on, he asked someone else to stand in for Washington so he could add the body.

Stuart painted Washington wearing clothes typical of an eighteenth-century gentleman. The black velvet suit is a good clue that this man is a civilian President, not a king or a military ruler. As President, Washington wore black velvet on official occasions. This is the first full-length portrait painted of Washington as head of the government, wearing civilian clothes instead of his military uniform.

By the time he sat for this portrait, Washington’s public and political careers were ending. Many people think he looks as if he is about to give a speech. However, near the end of his second term, when Washington decided not to run for President again, he did not give a speech. Instead, he wrote a farewell address that was published in a Philadelphia newspaper. It was printed in a newspaper so that as many Americans as possible could read his reason for retiring and his hopes for the country’s future.

Washington has one of the most familiar faces in American history. From his days as the commanding general of the army in the American Revolution until long after his death in 1799, he has been a popular subject for artists. One of the most familiar portraits of Washington is on the dollar bill. That portrait is based on another painting by Stuart known as the “Athenaeum” portrait.

Since his death, many places have been named for Washington. It is one of the ways his memory has been kept alive.


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