Musée No:792.016Regular price $32.37
Artist: Gilbert Stuart
Gilbert Charles Stuart, (1755–1828), was the third child of Gilbert Stewart, a Scottish immigrant employed in the snuff-making industry. Born in Rhode Island in 1770, he made the acquaintance and studied with the Scottish artist Cosmo Alexander. Once in Britain he became the protégé of Benjamin West. In 1782 his life changed because of his much acclaimed painting ‘The Skater’. At one point, only paintings by English artists Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough were more expensive. However, he was no good with money and in 1787 with Debtors’ Prison looming he fled to Dublin. In 1793, he decided to return to America with one clear aim in mind: to paint George Washington. He hoped that sales of copies would allow him to provide for his family. A fortuitous portrait of statesman John Jay Stuart led to an introduction and from there on he painted Washington in a series of iconic portraits, each of them leading to copies and keeping him highly paid for years. The most famous and celebrated of these likenesses is known as The Athenaeum, 1796, and is used on the United States one-dollar bill and on various postage stamps in both 19th and 20th century. The original painting is generally on display in the National Portrait Gallery.
He achieved great success as a fashionable portrait painter of high society, praised for the vitality and naturalness of his portraits, most famously those of George and Martha Washington. I say most famous but I’ll let you decide, his client list includes George III, George IV, Louis XVI, the first SIX Presidents of the United States and their First Ladies, Joshua Reynolds, John Jacob Astor …. all in all, portraits of more than 1,000 people.
In a strangely sad end to an incredibly successful life, when he died he left his family so deeply in debt that they couldn’t afford a grave plot – he was buried in an unmarked grave. When his family managed to get the money together for a proper grave some 10 years later, no one could remember exactly where he was at rest, so there he stays.
This portrait is of Mary Campbell Stuart, no relation to the artist, she was married to Dr. James Stuart. There is a companion painting to this of her husband. The paintings were on panel rather than the his preferred canvas because of the scarcity caused by the British naval blockade during the War of 1812.