Gilbert Stuart  
Gilbert Stuart

Gilbert Stuart portrait miniature by Sarah Goodridge, 1825
Gilbert Stuart, in full Gilbert Charles Stuart (born December 3, 1755, Saunderstown, Rhode Island colony [now in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, U.S.]—died July 9, 1828, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.), American painter who was one of the great portrait painters of his era and the creator of a distinctively American portrait style.

Stuart grew up in Newport, Rhode Island, where he learned the rudiments of painting. In 1775 he went to London and entered the studio of the expatriate American artist Benjamin West, with whom he worked for about six years. His mature style owes more, however, to the work of Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds than to West. In 1782 Stuart opened his own London studio, and for five years he received portrait commissions from some of England’s most distinguished gentlemen. Despite this success, he fled to Dublin in 1787 to escape his creditors. After six years in Ireland he returned to the United States, where he quickly established himself as the nation’s leading portrait painter. He lived in New York City for a short time and moved to Philadelphia, where he lived for about 12 years. He finally settled in Boston in 1805.

Stuart’s work was hailed by his contemporaries, and modern critics have confirmed this judgment, praising his brushwork, luminous colour, and psychological penetration. Of his nearly 1,000 portraits, undoubtedly the most famous is the unfinished head of George Washington from 1796. Stuart produced more than 60 copies of this work at the time, and in 1869 the image began to appear on the one-dollar bill. The iconic status of this work was assured in 1932, when millions of prints were distributed to American classrooms as part of the bicentennial celebration of Washington’s birth. Other fine portraits by Stuart include those of Mrs. Richard Yates, Mrs. Perez Morton, Major General Henry Dearborn, and John Adams.

Although Stuart had no formal pupils, many young artists, including John Vanderlyn, Thomas Sully, and John Neagle, took advantage of the advice he freely gave. These artists were particularly impressed by Stuart’s working method: eschewing preliminary sketches, he painted his sitters faces directly onto the canvas or panel. Less talented artists, including his own daughter Jane, reduced his style to a formula that was reflected in much American portraiture of the succeeding generation.

Encyclopædia Britannica


Self Portrait, painted in 1778

The Skater, 1782, a portrait of William Grant

George Washington

American artist Benjamin West, 1783–84

English artist Joshua Reynolds, 1784

American artist John Trumbull, c. 1818

Horatio Gates, 1794

Peter Gansevoort, 1794

George Washington, 1795, Metropolitan Museum of Art New York

Lansdowne portrait of George Washington, 1797

George Washington, ca. 1805, Rhode Island School of Design Museum

George Washington At Dorchester Heights, 1806, Boston Museum of Fine Arts

George Washington, 1825, Walters Art Museum

The second First Lady of the United States, Abigail Adams, c. 1800–1815

Robert R. Livingston, diplomat and Founding Father, 1793–94

John Jay, 1794, First Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court

Anna Payne Cutts, sister of First Lady Dolley Madison, 1804, The White House

The fourth President of the United States, James Madison, 1804, Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Jérôme Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, 1804

The second President of the United States, John Adams (nearly 89), 1823

The third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, c. 1821, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

The fourth President of the United States, James Madison, c. 1821

The fifth President of the United States, James Monroe

The sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, 1818, son of John and Abigail Adams

The sixth First Lady of the United States, Louisa Catherine Adams c. 1821–26, daughter-in law of John and Abigail Adams

Sir Robert Kingsmill, Admiral in Royal Navy during American and French Revolutionary Wars

United States Senator and Secretary of State Daniel Webster, 1825

George Calvert, politician and planter, 1804

Rosalie Stier Calvert, Belgian-born heiress and wife of George Calvert

Henry Rice, Boston merchant and Massachusetts state legislator, c. 1815

John Jones of Frankley held at the Birmingham Museum of Art

George Washington (The Constable-Hamilton Portrait, 1797) Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas

Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis, 1809 Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, NC

John Carrol, first Catholic bishop of the United States, c. 1804, Georgetown University Art Collection, Washington, D.C.



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