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Portrait, Historical, American, Presidents, George Washington, Calligraphy, Antique Print, New York, mid 19th Century


John I. Donlevy (d. 1872)
General George Washington
John I. Donlevy, New York: Mid 19th Century
16.5 x 13.75 inches, plate mark
19.25 x 16.25 inches, overall

Commemorative portrait of George Washington within an oval and surrounded by elaborate linear calligraphic decoration and text dedicating it as “Sacred to the Memory of the Illustrious Champion of Truth, General George Washington, First President of the United States of America.” Washington’s portrait is based on Gilbert Stuart’s painting commonly referred to as “the Athenaeum Portrait,” now jointly owned by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Washington’s head, a faint image of rays of sunlight and clouds behind it and his white ruffled shirt are rendered as shaded, naturalistic forms. However, his coat and pigtail are drawn as decorative arrangements of curling calligraphic lines. Some smaller shaded illustrations are also incorporated into the design: an eye at the top; an eagle holding an olive branch and an American flag below the word “Sacred,” and the word “America” at the bottom, rendered as an intricate Baroque foliate design; and a hand with a heart on it beneath the portrait. On either side of the portrait, within the oval, text gives Washington’s life span: “Born February 22nd, 1732” and “Died December 14th, 1799.” This piece is an example of a 19th century genre of complex calligraphic designs that showcased the skills of the engraver.

Product Description Continues Below


John I. Donlevy was an American engraver, inventor and publisher based in New York City. In 1854 he published The Rise and Progress of the Graphic Arts, a historical treatise on various printing processes, including some of his own invention, which he called chemitype transfer, typographic modeling and chromoglyphotype copying, a method utilizing intagliotypes which he asserted produced superior results to the conventional relief types then used by engravers and lithographers. In 1854 he was awarded a patent for “a method of producing intagliographic printing and other plates.” He also invented a new lithographic press and a cylindrical machine for chemical printing. In 1853, Donlevy married Harriet Farley (c. 1813-1907), a prominent New England abolitionist, writer, editor and activist on behalf of working class women. A biographical essay on Farley refers to him as John Intaglio Donlevy — presumably he adopted the middle name to identify himself with the printing process he championed.

Full publication information: “John I. Donlevy. Intaglio-Chromographic and Electrographic Engraver.”

Condition: Generally very good, recently cleaned and deacdified with only minor remaining toning. Four small patches of tape residue verso, apparently not affecting the front and neutralized in cleaning.


“Gilbert Stuart.” National Gallery of Art. 2012. (28 June 2012).

Maberly, Joseph and Theodore Henry Fielding. The Print Collector. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1880. p. 319. Online at Google Books: (28 June 2012).

Taylor, George Rogers. “Harriet Farley.” in Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary. Edward T. James, ed. Cambridge: Radcliffe College, 1971. pp. 596-597. Online at Google Books: (28 June 2012).