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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

That George Washington Portrait Saved by Dolley Madison Was Just a Copy

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The story of First Lady Dolley Madison heroically saving a portrait of George Washington as she was being exiled from the White House during the War of 1812 has been circulated for centuries.

The tale isn’t quite that simple, though. If you’re envisioning Dolley tearing the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait down as the Red Coats closed in and the curtains burned, well, that’s not quite what happened. Madison actually instructed an enslaved servant, 15-year-old Paul Jennings, to save the painting. “If not possible, destroy it: under no circumstance allow it to fall into the hands of the British,” she told him. The painting was 8 feet by 5 feet, so getting it off the wall was no easy task. With time running out, however, Jennings didn’t exactly have the luxury of carefully removing the frame from the wall and gently packing it away. Instead, he had to splinter the wood and cut the canvas out. It worked, and the painting was successfully smuggled out of the White House.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

All of that risk, all of that effort—and it turns out that the work was a mere copy. The original portrait of Washington—known as the Lansdowne portrait, because it was a gift for the Marquis of Lansdowne—was privately owned for decades. It’s believed that Stuart painted another three copies of this original work, and other artists painted more versions still to be hung in government offices across the country.

Some experts say the painting saved by Jennings on that chaotic night back in 1814 was one of these knock-offs. “The painting is not by Gilbert Stuart,” former National Portrait Gallery director Marvin Sadik told ARTnews in 1975.

Stuart himself didn’t do much to help clear up the matter. In 1802, he reportedly said, “I did not paint it, but I bargained for it.” His vague comment is open to interpretation: Some historians believe he was embarrassed by the quality of that particular copy and wasn’t too keen to claim it as his own. Others think that this copy was intended for (and already paid for by) Charles Pinckney, America's then-new minister to France. Stuart may have sold the painting to someone else, accepted a fee from both parties, then denied that he had anything to do with it in order to cover his tracks.

But whether the portrait saved by Dolley Madison and Paul Jennings was painted by Stuart’s hand or that of a lesser known artist, it was still just a copy of the original Lansdowne portrait. That original is usually on display at the National Portrait Gallery, not far from the version of the painting that was saved from the British—that copy is still displayed in the East Room of the White House. There’s one easy way to identify this particular iteration: The artist included a “typo” to set it apart from the others. If you look closely at the books by the table leg, you can see that one is titled The Constitution and Laws of the United Sates.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Dan Bell
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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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iStock
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Art
The Simple Optical Illusion That Makes an Image Look Like It's Drawing Itself
iStock
iStock

Artist James Nolan Gandy invents robot arms that sketch intricate mathematical shapes with pen and paper. When viewed in real time, the effect is impressive. But it becomes even more so when the videos are sped up in a timelapse. If you look closely in the video below, the illustration appears to materialize faster than the robot can put the design to paper. Gizmodo recently explained how the illusion works to make it look like parts of the sketch are forming before the machine has time to draw them.

The optical illusion isn’t an example of tricky image editing: It’s the result of something called the wagon wheel effect. You can observe this in a car wheel accelerating down the highway or in propeller blades lifting up a helicopter. If an object makes enough rotations per second, it can appear to slow down, move backwards, or even stand still.

This is especially apparent on film. Every “moving image” we see on a screen is an illusion caused by the brain filling in the gaps between a sequence of still images. In the case of the timelapse video below, the camera captured the right amount of images, in the right order, to depict the pen as moving more slowly than it did in real life. But unlike the pen, the drawing formed throughout the video isn't subject to the wagon-wheel effect, so it still appears to move at full speed. This difference makes it look like the sketch is drawing itself, no pen required.

Gandy frequently shares behind-the-scenes videos of his mechanical art on his Instagram page. You can check out some of his non-timelapse clips like the one below to better understand how his machines work, then visit his website to browse and purchase the art made by his 'bots.

And if you think his stuff is impressive, make sure to explore some of the incredible art robots have made in the past.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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