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Museum Parts With Historic George

While Curry says the market for prized American art has become "super hot," from a dearth of supply and the many new collectors on the scene, VMFA realized the Peale painting would elude its permanent collection. "We knew the family was anxious to sell it for quite a lot of money," he says — and at a time coinciding with VMFA's push to raise the last $10 million needed for its upcoming expansion. Acquiring the piece, he says, "was beyond our means."

Art critics say the painting is an American treasure of significant national, cultural and historic importance. Peale is known to have painted eight such portraits of Washington from 1779 to 1781 during the Revolutionary War. Signed and dated 1779, this picture shows Washington as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Highly detailed and iconic, it helped secure Peale's place as the premier portrait painter of Colonial America. — Brandon Walters

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