William Matthew Prior
William Matthew Prior worked in New England, though he traveled widely in search of painting commissions. He painted oil portraits and a few landscapes, as well as reverse glass portraits of famous people, such as George and Martha Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, and Napoléon Bonaparte. Prior advertised his services in New England newspapers in the 1820s, indicating that he did oil painting, bronzing, oil gilding, varnishing, and mechanical drawings, though he primarily worked as a portraitist.
Is George Washington relevant today?
This portrait was modeled after Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 portrait of George Washington, which Prior was permitted to copy in 1850. He then made numerous reverse-glass paintings based on the copy. This portrait provides contemporary museum visitors with an example of American reverse-glass painting (which was also popular on decorative arts objects, such as mirrors and clocks) and of the commercial ingenuity of American portrait painters working in the mid-19th century.
Gift of Mrs. John Barr Tompkins