The Masonic Portrait of Brother General George Washington
George Washington is arguably the most famous Freemason. His portrait, painted by William Joseph Williams is a true Masonic treasure.
This portrait was painted by William Joseph Williams (1759-1823) who was “widely regarded as the first American portraitist.” Williams agreed to give the portrait of Brother Washington to the local lodge of the Freemasons, Alexandria Masonic Lodge No. 22 in Virginia, of which Washington was a member and Past Master. Lodge officers wrote Washington in 1793 that it would be a source of the most refined gratification the tracing out and contemplating [of] the various ornaments of his character in the resemblance of his person. Williams’s portrait shows Washington as a Virginia Past Master, with Masonic regalia and jewels.
In this portrait, Washington noticeably lacks the charisma of his earlier portraits, and his eyes lack the fire he once had. He comes across more as a common curmudgeon than the American hero we usually envision. Also of note, Williams did not edit out Washington’s smallpox-scarred pockmarked cheeks, the bags under his eyes, the awkward set of his jaw (from numerous dental issues), a scar on Washington’s left cheek, and a mole under his right ear. During the contentious 1790s, Washington lost some of his impenetrable aura and was attacked like any other politician. Just as people were more willing to point out his failures, artists were less willing to edit out his blemishes. This is a portrait of a vulnerable, tired, battle-hardened geriatric who had given thirty years of indispensable and sacrificial service to his country. The indispensable man was spent. This portrait is believed to be the most accurate depiction of Washington ever created.
The original pastel-on-paper Masonic portrait of Washington is in the possession of Alexandria–Washington Lodge No. 22, Alexandria, Virginia.
Written by Wor. Bro. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA
Trustee Chairman and Historian, Jephtha Lodge #494
Co-Editor, Craftsmen Online NY Masonic History column
32° Scottish Rite, Valley of Rockville Centre
Companion of Asharokan Chapter No. 288, Royal Arch Masons
Member of Suffolk Council No. 76, Cryptic Masons
Author, “Long Island Freemasons,” Arcadia Publishing, 2020