George Rouse

George Washington Portrait Wax (1797)-inscribed, c. 1924 by Artist
Painted wax relief in antique birdseye maple frame signed and dated
15 x 13 in
SKU: 2122d
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This profile portrait of George Washington is a wax relief in an early antique birdseye maple frame, signed and dated as by George Rouse. Rouse appears to be the alias of a forger creating wax busts of the first American president in the early 1920s, inscribing the date of 1797 into the wax to appeal to uninformed collectors and unscrupulous dealers. When this portrait and similar examples first came to the market in 1924, they caught some interest among collectors and two of them were purchased by the New York Historical Society. Of the wax busts, this is perhaps the only example to have been painted in polychrome; most other examples have only the white color of the wax. Alongside telling a story of international forgery, this artwork tells a story of American history and the history of collecting American presidential portraiture.

15.5 x 13.5 inches including antique frame

Information on the artist G. Rouse can be found in:
• Bolton, Ethel S. American Wax Portraits. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1929. p. 60
• Wall, A.J. "Wax Portraiture." The New York Historical Society Quarterly Bulletin, vol. IX, no. 1 (April 1925): pp. 22-26.

Below is a transcript of the 1925 article by A.J. Wall:

In the summer of 1924 there appeared on the market in London, England, some wax profiles of "Gen. George Washington" signed "G. Rouse, Sculpt 1797." One of these marked "Gen. Washington" but unsigned was purchased for a very nominal sum and later a second copy with Rouse's name was offered and accepted as a copy of the first. Upon their arrival here a comparison seemed to indicate the work was by the same hand but with the usual differences of wax portraits in the ribbon tying the hair and the shirt frill or stock; both mounted on a wax background set in old frames with the lettering scratched in the wax done by the same hand. It was not long after the arrival of these waxes that one appeared in a sale. signed G. Rouse, which had been painted over with the buff and blue uniform colors. Another copy was shown to me by a dealer and three others were reported in shops abroad. A search for data concerning G. Rouse was unsuccessful but produced the following information from Mr. F.D. Sladen, Superintendent of the reading Room of the British Museum. In a letter Mr. Sladen writes:

"We have been quite unable to trace a wax portrait of the artist of the name of Rouse and it seems very doubtful whether such a man ever existed. I am enclosing a few notes kindly written for me by an officer in the department of Ceramics which throws a great deal fo light of the matter & which I am sure will interest you. The Mr. Hobson mentioned is the Keeper of the Department of Ceramics."

The information furnished by the officer in the office of Mr. R.R. Hobson, Keeper of the Department of Ceramics in the British Museum, follows:

"Counterfeit wax portraits were current in London during the last year. They were made by a very clever artist named X --- a man in very poor circumstances, who sold them to anyone who came to him. It is believed that he did not himself offer them as genuine, but hose who bought them from here were not so scrupulous.
"There was a portrait of Washington among those he mad. One such, at least, was taken from a bronze plaque which is not in the possession of a lady known to the writer of this note; so it could easily be identified by a photograph.
"X--- signed the pieces with fictitious names.
"It is generally recognized among the more reputable and old established dealers that wax portraits are very much counterfeited; and most of them refuse to buy them, except from old families whom they can trust.
"X---'s father, known as Z---, was a celebrated forger who imitated Tuner, Crome, & Constable, and was well known in the Eastern counties as a clever workman who was more than a mere copyist.
"Mr. Hobson does not know the name of Rouse.
"But wax portraits are always to be regarded with the gravest suspicion; and celebrated characters are of course the most commonly forged."

Other modern wax profiles of George Washington and celebrated characters such as Franklin, Lincoln and Napoleon, were reproduced about twenty years ago in Zurich, Switzerland, by a man in the employ of a museum as a repairer. They were small medallions in round frames about three inches, including the frames, which are of plaster of Paris, stained black. The back is cardboard, waxed on the obverse to which the miniature is glued. Some were also put in old frames. A number of these were brought to Philadelphia in 1908 and presented to private persons.

Additional information on wax portraits of and by Americans, not recorded, will be of interest to the writer.

-A.J. Wall
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