Portrait of George Washington, painted
by Robert Gordon Hardie after that
of Gilbert Stuart, presented to Grand
Lodge by Henry Wellcome
In line with his impulsive, even if resolute nature,
Wellcome’s Masonic interests waned after the highly
concentrated period in which he had been so intensely active.
It is thought that a specific incident may have triggered
something in his sensitive nature to cause his gradual
resignation from specific Lodges and general withdrawal from
the Craft. There is, however, one last gesture on his part, of
lasting Masonic consequence. It is his gift of the impressive
life-size painting of George Washington to the United Grand
Lodge of England. It hangs in the first floor Lounge at
Freemasons’ Hall in London.
As the centenary of the death of Washington in 1799 was
approaching, Henry Wellcome offered Grand Lodge the
portrait, which was gladly accepted. There was a delay due to
the low quality of the first painting, and Wellcome
commissioned the well-known American portrait artist
Robert Gordon Hardie (1854-1904), writing to him on
December 2nd 1901, as follows:
I feel that by changing my original plan you will have much greater
scope in painting a really masterful picture, which I am sure you
will take great pride in doing. If you think it desirable to introduce
Washington’s coat of arms (which contain the stars and stripes)
you might do so.
There are a great many portraits of Washington, which are
excessively bad, and make him look more like George III than the
true Washington. What is wanted in this picture is the type of
Washington which you and I have known all our lives – our ideal!
The great, wise and highly spiritual Washington – the true father
of our country.
The painting was formally unveiled on 8 August 1902 by the
American Ambassador, Joseph H Choate, in the presence
of the Earl of Warwick, Deputy Grand Master of the United
Grand Lodge of England and a small gathering of Brethren in
the library of Freemasons’ Hall. Among others present were
J R Robertson, Past Grand Master of Canada, Sir J Puleston,
Alderman F Trehawke, Col Daly, District Grand Master of
British Guiana as well as Henry Sadler, the Grand Tyler and
Clay Sadlow and Henry Wellcome himself.
The portrait of George Washington is in the dress of the
period with full Masonic regalia and, as requested, in the
corner are the arms of the Washington family, which are
the origin of the American stars and stripes. It is a permanent
reminder and memorial to Wellcome’s remarkable life,
his generosity and close involvement with the Craft.
Bibliography and Credits
Adeel, Ahmed: Henry Solomon Wellcome and the Sudan (On Line), September 2000
Church, Roy & Tansey, E M: Burroughs Wellcome & Co – Knowledge,
Trust and Profit and the Transformation of the British Pharmaceutical Industry 1880–1940,
Crucible Books, Lancaster, 2007
Sadler, Henry: Illustrated History of the Emulation Lodge of Improvement, London 1904
Sutton, Michael (On Line): Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne,
I also extend my appreciation to Ross MacFarlane, Archivist of the Wellcome
Foundation Papers, who so readily assisted me with his vast knowledge of
Web site created by Mark Griffin