Le Porte-Etendard (The Standard Bearer)
Signed lower left: G. Washington
Born in Marseille in September 1827 and, like most aspiring artists, the young moved to Paris, where he trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts under François-Edouard Picot (1786-1868). Best known for his animated historical and battle scenes, Picot was to be the first major influence upon Washington’s future artistic career, instilling upon him a strong grounding in fine draftsmanship, which Washington combined with his own innate understanding for dramatic action. The artist’s exotic style was also indebted to his study of the Romantic painters, especially Delacroix, whose Orientalist views were described with similarly brilliant and fluid oils. No doubt Washington’s love of the Middle East and its customs was further enhanced and encouraged by his father-in-law, the military and Orientalist painter Henri-Félix-Emmanuel Philippoteaux (1815-1884), whose daughter Anne-Léonie Philippoteaux married Washington in Paris on 6th August 1859.
Not long after finishing his training at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Washington embarked on the first of a number of trips to Algeria. In 1857 he made his Paris debut at the Salon des Artistes Français with a view of nomads titled Plaine du Hoiina (Sahara Algérien). From then up until 1901 Washington continued to be a popular exhibitor at the Salon; one of his first works shown there to gain critical acclaim was Nomades dans le Sahara en Hiver, (exhibited 1861; subsequently acquired by the Musée de Lille), while further success came when in 1893 he showed Le Combat and Cavaliers Arabes dans le Désert des Sables, for which he was awarded a third class medal.
Following two commissions from a Belgian company, in 1879 the artist travelled to Morocco and then subsequently visited Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey, which like his travels around Algeria were to inspire his varied subjects including battle scenes and cavalry skirmishes. His travels also took him to America, when he sailed first class from Le Havre and arrived at New York on 15th April 1886 for the unveiling in Philadelphia of a cyclorama (a monumental 360° panoramic view) of the Battle of Gettysburg by his brother-in-law Paul-Dominique Philippoteaux (1846-1923). The latter had already painted two earlier versions, for which he was known to have been was assisted by five other artists including Philippoteaux’s father as well as Georges Washington himself.
On the death of our artist’s father-in-law Henri-Félix-Emmanuel Philippoteaux in 1884, Georges Washington and his wife Anne-Léonie were left a modest apartment in Montmartre known as the Château des Brouillards, which was later occupied by the Impressionist painter Auguste Renoir. In 1884 Washington also sold thirty of his paintings at the Drouot Paris auction house and using the proceeds as well as a legacy left to him by his father-in-law, he and his wife embarked on a farming enterprise in Brittany. This however proved a financial disaster. He therefore revisited America in 1888 to undertake a commission for further panoramas before returning to Montmartre. Following the death of his wife he retired to live with his daughter and son-in-law at Douarnenez on the Brittany coast, where he died shortly after on 19th November 1901.
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs, et Graveurs, vol X (Paris, Librairie Gründ, 1976): p. 643.
Schurr, Gérald, 1820-1920, Les Petits Maitres de la Peinture Valeur de Demain, vol 1 (Paris, Les Éditions de l’Amateur, 1975): p. 70.
Selected Museum Collections:
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lille; Palais de Justice, Limoges; Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Narbonne;
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