Brooklyn Museum adds slavery disclaimer to George Washington portrait

The Washington Times

The Brooklyn Museum has added a new feature to its 1776 oil-on-canvas painting of Continental Army Gen. George Washington — a description card that notes his ownership of slaves despite defending the self-evident truth that all men are created equal. The portrait shows Washington standing in military dress uniform with Boston in the far background. It was painted by Charles Willson Peale and commissioned by Continental Congress President John Hancock just before he famously signed the Declaration of Independence. The new description card focuses on the “tension between the existence of slavery and the Declaration’s affirmation of freedom and equality” that it is “absent from Peale’s celebrated portrait.” “Washington enslaved more than 300 people prior to and during his tenure as the nation’s first president,” the card reads in part. However, the museum’s website description of the portrait does not include any mention of slavery. Instead, it points out that Boston stands in the background because Washington had liberated it from the British in March 1776. “In a diary entry dated July 2, 1776, Peale recorded work on the portrait along with these terse but resonant words: ‘This day the Continental Congress declared the United States Colonies Free and Independent States,’” the online description reads in part. The description card included with the in-person exhibit makes no mention of Boston or this context for the painting.

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