The Painting Dolley Saved

George Washington
There is a legend about how when the British were approaching Washington DC Dolley Madison, then first lady of the country, cut a portrait of George Washington out of its frame, rolled it up, and secreted it in the cart that she drove out of town.

I got to see the portrait during a recent tour of the White House.

The first thing that struck me is how big the painting is. It is much larger than me, let alone Dolley Madison, who was of small stature.

I asked the Secret Service agent in the room about the painting. He told me a few things…

1) It was Dolley’s servants that cut down the painting. And it needed to be cut down because the frame was (and is) bolted to the wall due to the weight.

2) Dolley did not make the flight from Washington by herself. Someone else drove the wagon.

3) The painting was apparently never rolled. This was discovered by the restorers.

4) Dolley Madison’s portrait hangs above a door in an adjacent room facing the painting she saved. She still keeps an eye on it.

After seeing the portrait, I wonder how she really got it out of the city. No cart would have been big enough to haul it flat.

I guess it’s just something we have to wonder about.


Image from the White House Collection

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