Martha Washington (née Martha Dandridge, formerly Martha Parke Custis, 1731–1802) Artist: Charles Willson Peale (American, 1741–1827)


American Paintings and Sculpture

Not on view

This portrait miniature shows Martha Washington, wife of President George Washington, at the age of forty-four. Martha sat for Charles Willson Peale, one of the most prolific and versatile of early American artists, on May 25 and 30, 1776, when he also made a three-quarter-length portrait of her. On June 4, Peale wrote in his diary that he “made a crystal for Mrs. Washington’s miniature,” inserting flat glass into a mold of his own design in the furnace, which could be adjusted to the desired size and curvature. Family tradition holds that George Washington carried this miniature of Martha with him while he was fighting in the American Revolution and wore it until his death in 1799. There are areas of yellowing in Martha’s dress and near her hairline that have been corrected with conservation treatment, but the rolled bezel on the gold locket makes it too difficult and risky to open.

Peale began his career in Maryland as a saddler and self-taught artist. After studying in London with Benjamin West, he returned to the United States, settling in Philadelphia to paint portraits. He fought in the Continental army and participated in Revolutionary politics while creating portraits of military and civilian leaders. The head of a large family of artists, Peale nurtured American artists at large, and in the 1790s, he focused his efforts on establishing a museum in Philadelphia that would encompass art, history, and the natural world.


Watercolor on ivory


1 1/4 × 1 1/8 in. (3.2 × 2.9 cm)

Credit Line

Mabel Brady Garvan Collection

Accession Number



18th century


Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of records is ongoing.

Object copyright
Additional information

Object/Work type

miniatures (paintings), portraits

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