Memorial to George Washington, “SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF THE ILLUSTRIOUS WASHINGTON”
After George Washington's sudden death on December 14, 1799, a flood of memorial portraits, poetry, music, and art dedicated to his memory promoted the new fashion for mourning in the young republic. Female academies and boarding schools for teenage girls adopted the fashion by adding mourning prints and designs to be copied in silk and painted pictures to their curriculum. Schoolgirl mourning pictures, such as this one, were almost always the product of several different hands, those of the educator, the student, and occasionally the professional artist.
A large number of Washington memorials depicting this allegorical composition are attributed to the collaborative efforts of Samuel Folwell and his wife, Ann Elizabeth Folwell (1770-1824), an embroidery teacher in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mrs. Folwell advertised her "SCHOOL OF EMBROIDERY" in 1813, noting that "Mr. Folwell, being a Master of Drawing, those Ladies under her tuition will have a double advantage in shading, which is all the merit of the picture."
Samuel Folwell provided the overall designs for the pictures, sometimes borrowing motifs from printed sources. After a student under the instruction of Mrs. Folwell completed the embroidery, Samuel added painted backgrounds and details. Here, the allegorical figure of Fame appears in the sky bearing a laurel wreath and trumpeting at a startled eagle. This motif represents the emblem of the Society of Cincinnati, a group of officers of the Revolutionary War to which Washington belonged. Inscriptions like the ones in this picture were often added: "SACRED/ TO THE MEMORY OF/ THE/ ILLUSTRIOUS/ WASHINGTON" and "THY/ LOSS EVER SHALL/ WE/ MOURN."