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. First Lady Dolley Madison ordered the Washington painting to be saved, and it was taken down off the wall and sent out of harm’s way by a group of individuals--Jean Pierre Sioussat, the White House steward; Paul Jennings, an enslaved worker; Thomas McGrath, the White House gardener; and two men from New York, Jacob Barker and Robert G.L. De Peyster. 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, paired with a full-length portrait of Martha Washington.