Gilbert Stuart

Gilbert Stuart, 1755–1828, American portrait painter, b. North Kingstown, R.I., best known for his portraits of George Washington. Having shown an early talent for drawing, he became the pupil of Cosmo Alexander, a Scottish painter who was visiting America. He went with him to Edinburgh but returned to America after Alexander's death in 1773. When the Revolution threatened, he sailed to London. He became a protégé of Benjamin West, remaining with him for nearly five years. During this period he exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy of Arts and won renown with his Portrait of a Gentleman Skating (1782). Although he was then eminently successful, his extravagant mode of living kept him in constant debt. In 1787 he moved to Dublin.

Stuart returned to America, first living in Philadelphia and later settling permanently in Boston, where he became the most celebrated portrait painter of his day. He painted three portraits of Washington from life and more than 100 replicas of these three. His first, the so-called Vaughan type (1795), is a bust with the right side of the face shown; there are at least 15 replicas in existence, one of which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The second, the Lansdowne type (1796), painted for the marquess of Lansdowne, is a full-length study of the president; the original is in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The third, unfinished, the Athenaeum Head (Mus. of Fine Arts, Boston, and National Portrait Gall., Smithsonian) named for the version once owned by the Boston Athenæum, was commissioned (c.1796) by Martha Washington. The artist kept the original version while she had to remain content with one of the 75 replicas he subsequently painted. This portrait has been immortalized by the engraving on the U.S. one-dollar bill.

Stuart's elegant and brilliant style, partially modeled after Reynolds and Gainsborough, is seen at its best in such portraits as those of Mrs. Richard Yates (National Gall. of Art, Washington, D.C.), Josef and Matilda de Jaudenes y Nebot (Metropolitan Mus.), and John Adams (N.Y. Historical Society). He painted these and many other notable figures of the day including Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, James and Dolley Madison, Abigail Adams, John Jay, John Jacob Astor, his mentor West, Reynolds, John Singleton Copley, John Trumbell, Washington Allston, and other artists, and a wide variety of members of the mainly American and British elite. The greater part of Stuart's works are in collections in Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia.

See R. McLanathan, Gilbert Stuart: The Father of American Portraiture (1986); D. Evans, The Genius of Gilbert Stuart (1999); C. R. Barratt and E. G. Miles, Gilbert Stuart (2004).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

On Desperate Seas: A Biography of Gilbert Stuart
James Thomas Flexner.
Fordham University Press, 1995
Gilbert Stuart
William T. Whitley.
Harvard University Press, 1932
Without Regard to Good Manners: A Biography of Gilbert Stuart, 1743-1786
William Zachs.
Edinburgh University Press, 1992
Art in America: A Complete Survey
Holger Cahill; Alfred H. Barr Jr.
Reynal & Hitchcock, 1935
Early American Painting
Frederic Fairchild Sherman.
The Century Co., 1932
Librarian’s tip: "Gilbert Stuart" begins on p. 69
Observations on American Art: Selections from the Writings of John Neal (1793-1876)
Harold Edward Dickson.
The Pennsylvania State College, 1943
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Gilbert Stuart begins on p. 69
The American Artist and His Times
Homer Saint-Gaudens.
Dodd, Mead, 1941
American Painting, History and Interpretation
Virgil Barker.
Bonanza Books, 1950
Librarian’s tip: "A Returning Master" begins on p. 243
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