George Washington was a favorite subject of artists like J.C Leyendecker, N.C. Wyeth, and Stevan Dohanos. In all, the first president of the United States has appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post 10 times.
Washington Crossing the Delaware
It is daunting to consider the work realist painter Stevan Dohanos put into this painting. Reproducing images of over a dozen students (and their teacher) with meticulous detail should have been artistic challenge enough, but duplicating Emanuel Leutze’s famous 1850 painting is mind-boggling.
Much has been criticized about Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware: “The crossing was at night (not daytime)”; “That particular version of the flag came later”; and “Washington was only in his 40s and not the elderly man we see here”; to name a few. While the historical inconsistencies are worth noting, the huge 21-by-12-foot painting of that 1776 Christmas night is still a magnificent accomplishment and a tribute to a critical turning point in American history. The painting today is part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
First Farmer of the Land
N.C. Wyeth was described in a 2011 Post article by Edgar Allen Beem as “a larger-than-life figure, a swashbuckler of a man whose dramatic illustrations fired the imaginations of generations of readers.” This portrait of Washington was Wyeth’s last work. Country Gentleman editors noted in 1946, “He was working on it at the time of his tragic death at a grade [train] crossing last fall. It is, therefore, an unfinished work. We preferred to have you see it this way than let some lesser artist finish it.”
Wyeth, who had used George Washington as a subject several times, was a natural choice to illustrate the article about the farming habits of the former president. “Mr. Wyeth did exhaustive research on Washington’s farming operations so that this picture might be accurate in every detail,” editors noted. Those details clearly include the depiction of slave labor, a factor not addressed in the article, which concentrates on the minutiae of crops and agriculture. According to the article, Washington was so thorough in his farming procedures that he was determined to find out how many seeds of various cereals were in a pound in order to calculate how many pounds to sew per acre. He carefully counted 8,925 barley seeds per pound; 71,000 seeds of red clover; and 298,000 of timothy (this was before the days of grain estimates.)
George Washington and W.W.I Soldiers
Five of J.C. Leyendecker’s 322 Post covers were portraits of George Washington. His July 1927 cover (George Washington on Horseback) shows a magnificent Washington on horseback in full command of the Revolutionary forces.
This 1917 cover shows the general astride his horse for a latter-day conflict. The United States was involved in World War I and for the Fourth of July holiday, Leyendecker evoked the spirit of the Revolutionary War hero to guide modern-day soldiers through the latest conflict. It was a stirring patriotic scene at yet another critical time in U.S. history.