Completed in 1797, Gilbert Stuart’s painting of George Washington was the first piece of artwork purchased for display in the White House.
On August 24, 1814, during the War of 1812, British troops invaded Washington, D.C. Seeing Stuart’s painting of Washington, Dolley Madison ordered it saved, and it was carried off with the assistance of White House staff, enslaved individuals, and passing citizens to a safe hiding place in Maryland. Later that night, British troops set fire to the White House and destroyed many of the first family’s possessions. They could not, however, claim the capture or destruction of George Washington’s famous portrait. The portrait currently hangs in the East Room of the White House.