This portrait engraving is based upon the famous painting of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart in 1796. It is known as the Lansdowne Portrait, because it was a gift to the Marquis of Lansdowne, a British supporter of American independence, from Senator and Mrs. William Bingham of Pennsylvania. Washington is depicted as a stalwart representative of democracy, surrounded by objects metaphorically representing his public life. This is probably the best known portrait engraving by British printmaker James Heath, and was originally produced in 1800. The print is captioned, "Painted by Gabriel Stuart 1797," but this is incorrect, perhaps deliberately so -- James Heath produced this engraving without consulting Gilbert Stuart, who was distressed that Heath had violated his copyright, and complained publicly in an attempt to discredit the print. For the rest of his life, Stuart worried about unauthorized versions of his Washington portraits, and did successfully sue other copiers. Washington had died in 1799 and there was great demand in America for images of their national hero, and such prints sold well. The original painting is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and an extensive explanatory text can be found on the Smithsonian web site. The print is also in their collection and can be viewed on their site.
James Heath was a London-based engraver in line and stipple. Heath studied under Joseph Collyer and established his career over an eight-year period engraving plates after Thomas Stothard for the Novelist's Magazine. He engraved book illustrations for many prominent publishers of the day, including John Boydell. He also re-engraved William Hogarth's plates and produced separately-issued prints after the works of renowned painters, the most celebrated of which was after John Singleton Copley's painting Death of Major Peirson. Heath's best-known portrait is probably his engraving after Gilbert Stuart's painting of George Washington (1800). He was made an associate engraver by the Royal Academy in 1791 and exhibited there from 1795 to 1834. From 1793 to 1834 he was Historical Engraver to the King.
"George Washington, A National Treasure: The Portrait." Smithsonian Institution. http://www.georgewashington.si.edu/portrait (16 January 2003).
"Gilbert Stuart." Worcester Art Museum. http://www.worcesterart.org/Collection/Early_American/Artists/stuart/biography/content.html (16 January 2003).
"Heath." The Grove Dictionary of Art. 2000. Online at Artnet.com. (16 January 2003).
Maxted, Ian. "The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members." Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History. 2001. http://www.devon.gov.uk/library/locstudy/bookhist/lonh.html (16 January 2003).