This national treasure painted by Gilbert
Stuart in 1798 can be enlarged by clicking on the painting.
- - Painting Courtesy of Seth
The Following Text is from the National
Gallery of Art: "Because he portrayed virtually all the notable men and women of the
Federal period in the United States, Gilbert Stuart was declared the
"Father of American Portraiture" by his contemporaries. Born in Rhode
Island, the artist trained and worked in London, England, and Dublin, Ireland,
from 1775 to 1793. He then returned to America with the specific intention of
painting President Washington's portrait.
Stuart resided in New York (1793-1795); Philadelphia (1795-1803), where he
did his first portrait of George Washington; and the new capital at Washington,
D.C. (1803-1805). In 1805 he settled in Boston and painted the Gibbs-Coolidge
Set, the only surviving depiction of all five first presidents. Before his death
at seventy-two, Stuart also taught many followers. A charming conversationalist,
Stuart entertained his sitters during long hours of posing to sustain the fresh
spontaneity of their expressions. To emphasize facial characterization, he
eliminated unnecessary accessories and preferred dark, neutral backgrounds and
simple, bust- or half-length formats.
Stuart often was irritatingly slow in completing commissions, in spite of his
swift, bravura brushwork. Though he inevitably commanded high prices, Stuart
lived on the verge of bankruptcy throughout his career because of his
extravagant lifestyle and inept business dealings. In London, for instance, he
had owned a carriage, an unheard-of presumption for a commoner. And Stuart's
years in Ireland, both coming and going, had been ploys to escape debtors'
Stuart in England and Ireland
Stuart received his earliest artistic training in his native Rhode Island
from an itinerant Scottish painter. After sailing to London in 1775 he studied
West, a Pennsylvanian who had been the first American artist to achieve
renown in Europe.
Stuart's own fame took hold when he exhibited The
Skater (Portrait of William Grant) at London's Royal Academy of art in
1782. The painting enlivened England's "Grand Manner" tradition of
formal portraiture by depicting Grant in vigorous activity rather than in a
static, formal pose. Stuart soon commanded prices higher than any portraitist in
London except for the court painters Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua
When Stuart's Sir
Joshua Reynolds was shown at the Royal Academy in 1784, the portrait
annoyed the sitter who, as president of that cultural institution, was jealous
of the young American's rising reputation. It depicts Reynolds taking a pinch of
snuff, which was simply too undignified for that gentleman's strict, idealizing
taste. Nonetheless, Stuart multiplied his successes in Dublin, where he moved in
1787 and gained a monopoly over Irish portraiture before sailing for the new
United States in 1793."
The National Gallery of Art lends many of its forty-one portraits by Stuart
to government agencies and other institutions. For example, William
Thornton and Mrs.
William Thornton, a pair of portraits of the Capitol's architect and his
wife painted in 1804, are on display at The Octagon House in Washington because
that historic building was designed by Thornton. Other Stuarts alternate on view
in our American or British rooms, including:
Binney, 1800, Stuart's close friend, a Philadelphia lawyer
Dick, 1783, Scottish naval officer with a medal from Catherine the Great
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