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The Grand Staircase

Washington Resigning His Commission

Artist: Edwin White (1817-1877), 1858
Medium: Oil on canvas
MSA SC 1545-1112

Washington Resigning

Key to people pictured in painting

This monumental painting depicts the scene in the Old Senate Chamber of the Maryland State House on December 23, 1783, when General George Washington resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the victorious Continental Army. Washington's resignation was delivered at a meeting of the Continental Congress, which convened in Annapolis on November 26. The solemn ceremony is well documented in first person accounts as well as in the published rules of the ceremony, which stated that, "the President and members are to be seated and covered...The General is to be seated with an aide on each side, standing...the General is to arise, and address Congress...the President is to deliver the answer of Congress...the to bow to Congress, which they are to return by uncovering without bowing." The stiff formality and deference were designed to re-emphasize the supremacy of the civilian representatives of the people over the military. Despite this formality, one witness, James McHenry, reported that "the spectators all wept, and there was hardly a member of Congress who did not drop tears."

Edwin White was born in Massachusetts and began painting at an early age. He exhibited at the National Academy in New York where he was also a member. Specializing in historical scenes, his work has been displayed in such institutions as the Pennsylvania Academy, the Boston Athenaeum, the American Art Union, and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In portraying the scene of Washington's resignation, White took some liberties in depicting those present at the ceremony, including such figures as Martha Washington and her niece who were at the Washington home in Mount Vernon, Virginia, at the time. This painting was commissioned by the Maryland Legislature in 1856. White was selected as the artist in 1858, and the painting was completed the following year.

A similar painting depicting the scene of Washington's Resignation was painted by John Trumbull (1756-1843) between 1822 and 1824. It is installed in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol.


Paintings in the Grand Staircase Landing