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Citizen SpectatorArt, Illusion, and Visual Perception in Early National America$
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Wendy Bellion

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780807833889

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5149/9780807838907_Bellion

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PRINTED FROM UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.northcarolina.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of North Carolina Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NCSO for personal use.date: 13 October 2019

The Politics of Discernment

The Politics of Discernment

(p.63) 2 The Politics of Discernment
Citizen Spectator

Wendy Bellion

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter retells one of the tallest tales in American art history, which begins with a visit to the Peale Museum. Sometime during the late 1790s, George Washington called at the museum with the intent of viewing waxwork sculptures of several American Indian figures. As Charles Willson Peale escorted Washington to the gallery featuring the waxworks, the president was stopped in his tracks by a trompe l'oeil picture. “The painting represented my elder brother,” Peale's son Rembrandt later recalled in the literary journal the Crayon, “with palette on hand, as stepping up a stairway, and a younger brother looking down.” “I observed that Washington, as he passed it, bowed politely to the painted figures, which he afterwards acknowledged he thought were living persons. If this first homage bestowed on the picture was not indicative of its merit, it was, at least, another instance of [Washington's] habitual politeness.”

Keywords:   American art history, Peale Museum, George Washington, waxwork sculptures, American Indian figures

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