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Gilbert Stuart ( Stewart; December 3, 1755 – July 9, 1828) was an American painter born in the Rhode Island Colony who is widely considered one of America's foremost portraitists.[2] His best-known work is an unfinished portrait of George Washington, begun in 1796, which is usually referred to as the Athenaeum Portrait. Stuart retained the original and used it to paint scores of copies that were commissioned by patrons in America and abroad. The image of George Washington featured in the painting has appeared on the United States one-dollar bill for more than a century[2] and on various postage stamps of the 19th century and early 20th century.[3]

Gilbert Stuart
An old man with gray hair combed back and black coat
Stuart in a c. 1825 portrait by Sarah Goodridge
Gilbert Stewart[1]

(1755-12-03)December 3, 1755
DiedJuly 9, 1828(1828-07-09) (aged 72)
Known forPainting
Notable workGeorge Washington (The Athenaeum Portrait) (1796)
George Washington (Lansdowne portrait) (1796)
George Washington (Vaughan portrait) (1795)
The Skater (1782)
Catherine Brass Yates (1794)
John Adams (1824)

Stuart produced portraits of about 1,000 people, including the first six Presidents.[4] His work can be found today at art museums throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Frick Collection in New York City, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, the National Portrait Gallery in London, Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.[5]


Early life

The Gilbert Stuart Birthplace in Saunderstown, Rhode Island
Portrait of William Hunter's spaniels

Stuart was born on December 3, 1755, in Saunderstown, a village of North Kingstown in the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and he was baptized at Old Narragansett Church on April 11, 1756.[6][7] He was the third child of Gilbert Stuart,[8] a Scottish immigrant employed in the snuff-making industry, and Elizabeth Anthony Stuart, a member of a prominent land-owning family from Middletown, Rhode Island.[4] Stuart's father owned the first snuff mill in America, which was located in the basement of the family homestead.[9]

Stuart moved to Newport, Rhode Island, at the age of six, where his father pursued work in the merchant field. In Newport, he first began to show great promise as a painter.[10] In 1770, he made the acquaintance of Scottish artist Cosmo Alexander, a visitor to the colonies who made portraits of local patrons and who became a tutor to Stuart.[11][12] Under the guidance of Alexander, Stuart painted the portrait Dr. Hunter's Spaniels when he was 14; it hangs today in the Hunter House Mansion in Newport.[7]

In 1771, Stuart moved to Scotland with Alexander to finish his studies; however, Alexander died in Edinburgh one year later. Stuart tried to maintain a living and pursue his painting career, but to no avail, so he returned to Newport in 1773.[13]

England and Ireland

Self-portrait, painted in 1778
The Skater, a 1782 portrait of Sir William Grant

Stuart's prospects as a portraitist were jeopardized by the onset of the American Revolution and its social disruptions. Although he was a patriot,[14] he departed for England in 1775 following the example set by John Singleton Copley.[15] His painting style during this period began to develop beyond the relatively hard-edged and linear style that he had learned from Alexander.[16] He was unsuccessful at first in pursuit of his vocation, but he became a protégé of Benjamin West in 1777 and studied with him for the next six years. The relationship was beneficial, with Stuart exhibiting for the first time at the Royal Academy in spring of 1777.[17]

By 1782, Stuart had met with success, largely due to acclaim for The Skater, a portrait of Sir William Grant. It was Stuart's first full-length portrait and, according to a rival, it belied the prevailing opinion that Stuart "made a tolerable likeness of a face, but as to the figure, he could not get below the fifth button'".[18] Stuart said that he was "suddenly lifted into fame by a single picture".[19]

The prices for his pictures were exceeded only by those of renowned English artists Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. Despite his many commissions, however, he was habitually neglectful of finances and was in danger of being sent to debtors' prison. In 1787, he fled to Dublin, Ireland where he painted and accumulated debt with equal vigor.[20]

New York City and Philadelphia

Stuart ended his 18-year stay in Britain and Ireland in 1793, leaving behind numerous unfinished paintings. He returned to the United States with a particular goal of painting a portrait of George Washington and having an engraver reproduce it and provide for his family through the engraving's sale.[21] He settled briefly in New York City and pursued portrait commissions from influential people who could bring him to Washington's attention.[17] In 1794, he painted statesman John Jay, from whom he received a letter of introduction to Washington. In 1795, Stuart moved to the Germantown section of Philadelphia, where he opened a studio,[22][23] and Washington posed for him later that year.[17]

Stuart painted Washington in a series of iconic portraits, each of them leading to a demand for copies and keeping him busy and highly paid for years.[24] The most famous and celebrated of these likenesses, the Athenaeum portrait, is portrayed on the United States one-dollar bill. Stuart painted about 50 reproductions of it.[25] However, he avoided completing the original version. After finishing Washington's face, he kept it to make copies which he sold for $100 each. Thus the original portrait remained in its unfinished state at the time of his death in 1828.[26] The painting was jointly purchased by the National Portrait Gallery and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1980, and is generally on display in the National Portrait Gallery.[27][28]

Another celebrated image of Washington is the full-length Lansdowne portrait, now in the National Portrait Gallery. Its historical importance is almost matched by an early forgery based on it which was purchased for the White House. This painting was rescued during the Burning of Washington in the War of 1812 thanks to the efforts of First Lady Dolley Madison and Paul Jennings, one of President James Madison's slaves. Three replicas of the original portrait are accepted as by Stuart.[29] Additional copies were painted by other artists.[30] In 1803, Stuart opened a studio in Washington, D. C.[31]

Boston, 1805–1828

Stuart's unfinished 1796 painting of George Washington, also known as the Athenaeum Portrait, his most celebrated and famous work

Stuart moved to Devonshire Street in Boston in 1805, continuing in both critical acclaim and financial troubles.[32] He exhibited works locally at Doggett's Repository[33] and Julien Hall.[34] Predictably, he was sought out for advice by other Amertican artists, such as John Trumbull, Thomas Sully, Washington Allston, and John Vanderlyn.[18]

Personal life

Stuart married Charlotte Coates around September 1786; she was 13 years his junior and "exceedingly pretty".[35] They had 12 children, five of whom died by 1815 and two others of whom died in their youth. Their daughter Jane (1812–1888) was also a painter. She sold many of his paintings and her replicas of them from her studios in Boston and Newport, Rhode Island.[36] In 2011, she was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.[37]

In 1824, Stuart suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed, but he continued to paint for two years until his death in Boston on July 9, 1828, at 72.[38] He was buried in the Central Burial Ground at Boston Common.

Stuart left his family deeply in debt, and his wife and daughters were unable to purchase a grave site. He was, therefore, buried in an unmarked grave which was purchased cheaply from Benjamin Howland, a local carpenter.[39] His family recovered from their financial troubles 10 years later, and they planned to move his body to a family cemetery in Newport. However, they could not remember the exact location of his body, and it was never moved.[40] There is a monument for Stuart, his wife, and their children at the Common Burying Ground in Newport.[41]

The Boston Athenæum held a benefit exhibition of Stuart's works in August 1828 in an effort to provide financial aid for his family. More than 250 portraits were lent for this critically acclaimed and well-subscribed exhibition. This also marked the first public showing of his unfinished 1796 Athenæum portrait of Washington.[42]


By the end of his career, Gilbert Stuart had painted the likenesses of more than 1,000 American political and social figures.[43] He was praised for the vitality and naturalness of his portraits, and his subjects found his company agreeable. John Adams said:

Speaking generally, no penance is like having one's picture done. You must sit in a constrained and unnatural position, which is a trial to the temper. But I should like to sit to Stuart from the first of January to the last of December, for he lets me do just what I please, and keeps me constantly amused by his conversation.[44]

Stuart was known for working without the aid of sketches, beginning directly upon the canvas. His approach is suggested by the advice which he gave to his pupil Matthew Harris Jouett: "Never be sparing of colour, load your pictures, but keep your colours as separate as you can. No blending, tis destruction to clear & bea[u]tiful effect."[18] Although this is an exaggeration to avoid muddiness, Stuart's colors were remarkably fresh. At Stuart's best, he had an extraordinary ability to convey the impression of "luminous, transparent flesh" with color coming from beneath. The face seemed to be embued with life, while the beauty of its coloring conveyed a spiritual quality to contemporaries.[45] Although uneven, he could produce astonishingly strong likenesses.[46]

John Henri Isaac Browere created a life mask of Stuart around 1825.[47] In 1940, the U.S. Post Office issued a series of postage stamps called the "Famous Americans Series" commemorating famous artists, authors, inventors, scientists, poets, educators, and musicians. Gilbert Stuart is found on the 1 cent issue in the artists category, along with James McNeill Whistler, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, and Frederic Remington.

Today, Stuart's birthplace in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, is open to the public as the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace and Museum. The birthplace consists of the original house where he was born, with copies of his paintings hanging throughout the house, as well as a separate art gallery in which are displayed several original paintings by both Gilbert Stuart and his daughter Jane. The museum opened in 1931.[48]

Gilbert Stuart's paintings of Washington, Jefferson, and others have served as models for dozens of U.S. postage stamps. Washington's image from the famous portrait The Athenaeum is probably the most noted example of Stuart's work on postage.

Notable people painted

George Washington (Lansdowne portrait) 1796, an oil on canvas painting now housed in National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

This is a partial list of portraits painted by Stuart.[49]


  1. ^ "Gilbert Stuart (1775–1828)". Worcester Art Museum. Archived from the original on December 20, 2015. Retrieved February 4, 2008.
  2. ^ a b Park, 1926, vol. 1, p. 15. He was baptised without a middle name but occasionally adopted the middle name "Charles" when in London, apparently to connect himself with the last serious Stuart claimant to the British throne. See Dorinda Evans, Gilbert Stuart and the Impact of Manic Depression, Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2013, p. 127.
  3. ^ "10-cent Washington". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Gilbert Stuart Birthplace". Archived from the original on November 16, 2005. Retrieved October 10, 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link), The Story of Gilbert Stuart. Woonsocket Connection. Retrieved July 25, 2007.
  5. ^ Gilbert Stuart Archived July 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. ArtCyclopedia. Paintings in Museums and Public Art Galleries. Retrieved July 24, 2007.
  6. ^ The Old Narragansett Church (St. Paul's): Built A.D. 1707. A Constant Witness to Christ and His Church. Committee of Management. 1915. p. 15. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Gilbert Stuart". The Gilbert Stuart Museum. Archived from the original on October 6, 2010. Retrieved October 11, 2010.
  8. ^ "Gilbert Stuart". NNDB. Retrieved July 25, 2007.
  9. ^ McLanathan 1986, p. 13.
  10. ^ Gilbert Stuart Birthplace Archived August 14, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Gilbert Stuart. Retrieved July 28, 2007.
  11. ^ "Gilbert Stuart, Newport and Edinburgh (1755–1775)". National Gallery of Art. Archived from the original on September 3, 2016. Retrieved July 12, 2016.
  12. ^ "Gilbert Stuart". Redwood Library and Athenæum, Newport Rhode Island. Archived from the original on April 27, 2011. Retrieved October 11, 2010.
  13. ^ "Gilbert Stuart". Germantown, Portrait Artist. Retrieved October 11, 2010.
  14. ^ Evans 1999, p. 10
  15. ^ National Gallery of Art Archived September 1, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Gilbert Stuart. London (1775–1787). Retrieved July 31, 2007.
  16. ^ National Gallery of Art. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  17. ^ a b c Christman, M., & Barlow, M. (2003). Stuart [Stewart], Gilbert. Grove Art Online. Retrieved November 29, 2019.
  18. ^ a b c Christman, Margaret C. S. "Stuart, Gilbert." In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Retrieved October 1, 2012
  19. ^ National Gallery of Art Archived November 29, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.The Skater (Portrait of William Grant), 1782. Retrieved November 23, 2014.
  20. ^ National Gallery of Art Archived June 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Gilbert Stuart. Dublin (1787–1793). Retrieved July 31, 2007.
  21. ^ Park et al. (1926), p. 44.
  22. ^ "Gilbert Stuart – Washington". Retrieved November 25, 2007.
  23. ^ "George Washington". Smithsonian Institution. Archived from the original on November 3, 2007. Retrieved November 25, 2007.
  24. ^ National Gallery of Art Archived April 10, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Gilbert Stuart. Philadelphia (1794–1803). Retrieved July 31, 2007.
  25. ^ "George Washington Portrait by Gilbert Stuart" Archived July 10, 2019, at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved September 14, 2019.
  26. ^ Wallechinsky, David and Irving Wallace. "Unfinished Art: Gilbert Stuart's Portrait of George Washington". The People's Almanac. Retrieved April 21, 2008.
  27. ^ Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, George Washington Archived August 9, 2017, at the Wayback Machine Accessed December 12, 2014.
  28. ^ National Portrait Gallery Collections Search, p. 9. Accessed December 12, 2014.
  29. ^ Evans, Dorinda, "William Winstanley (fl 1791-1808): Gilbert Stuart's Shadow and a Swindling Genius", The British Art Journal, XX, no. 3, Winter 2019/2020, 98-101.
  30. ^ Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, Artist Gilbert Stuart's portraits of George Washington. Archived September 15, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Accessed: May 11, 2012.
  31. ^ National Gallery of Art Archived June 7, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Gilbert Stuart. Washington, D.C. (1803–1805). Retrieved July 31, 2007.
  32. ^ The Boston Directory. Boston: E. Cotton. 1813. p. 237.
  33. ^ Daily Advertiser, March 2, 1822
  34. ^ Boston Commercial Gazette, December 1, 1825
  35. ^ Quote from Jane Stuart in Evans 2013, p. 14.
  36. ^ "History Bytes: Jane Stuart". Newport Historical Society. October 22, 2013. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
  37. ^ Conley, Patrick T. (2011). "Jane Stuart". Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. Retrieved February 16, 2017.
  38. ^ McLanathan 1986, p. 148.
  39. ^ McLanathan 1986, p. 150.
  40. ^ Wolpaw, Jim. Gilbert Stuart: A Portrait from Life (9-Minute Trailer). Documentary.
  41. ^ "Jane Stuart". Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission. 2007. Retrieved February 16, 2017.
  42. ^ Swan, Mabel Munson The Athenæum Gallery 1827–1873: The Boston Athenæum as an Early Patron of Art (Boston: The Boston Athenæum, 1940) pp. 62–73
  43. ^ "Gilbert Stuart". Gilbert Stuart Museum. Archived from the original on October 6, 2010. Retrieved July 16, 2009.
  44. ^ McLanathan 1986, p. 147.
  45. ^ Evans 1999, pp. 28, 56, 95-96 (quote), 105-06, 110, 118.
  46. ^ Evans 1999, pp. 27, 56. For uneven, see Evans 2013, pp. 18-19, 69-73, 82-84, 148.
  47. ^ Charles Henry Hart. Browere's life masks of great Americans. Printed at the De Vinne Press for Doubleday and McClure Company, 1899. Internet Archive
  48. ^ "Gilbert Stuart Birthplace and Museum". Gilbert Stuart Museum. Retrieved July 16, 2009.
  49. ^ Mason 1879, pp. 125–283.
  50. ^ "Elizabeth Bowdoin". National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved February 15, 2017.
  51. ^ a b c d Fielding 1929.
  52. ^ "Red Digital de Colecciones de Museos de España - Museos". (in Spanish). Retrieved December 21, 2020.


  • Evans, Dorinda (1999). The Genius of Gilbert Stuart. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05945-4.
  • Fielding, Mantle (1929). "Paintings by Gilbert Stuart not mentioned in Mason's Life of Stuart". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 53 (2). The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. JSTOR 20086696.
  • McLanathan, Richard (1986). Gilbert Stuart. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. ISBN 9780810915015.
  • Mason, George C. (1879). The Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Park, Lawrence, John Hill Morgan, and Royal Cortissoz (1926). Gilbert Stuart : An Illustrated Descriptive List of His Works. New York: W. E. Rudge.