Saturday, April 12, 2014

The untidy, tipsy life of Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) plus a few portraits of women mostly

On April 12, 1796, President George Washington posed for artist Gilbert Stuart for what would come to be known as the Lansdowne portrait. Stuart was one of the foremost portrait painters in the United States at the time. Stuart’s Lansdowne likeness was certainly successful, but not completely flawless. Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis claimed that the face “is incomparably the best likeness of the Chief in his latter days, but in the person, that great Master of Portrait Painting failed entirely.”  When busy sitters posed for Stuart, he would paint the individual’s face & hands, but the body was often based on a model used later.  In this case, the stand-in model for Washington’s body was plumper & fleshier than Washington, according to his grandson. 

1796 Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) George Washington Lansdowne Portrait

When Stuart had returned to the United States, fleeing debt collectors in Ireland, he wrote to his uncle Joseph Anthony (1738–1798) in Newport, "The object of my journey is only to secure a picture of the President & finish yours." He mentioned nothing of his debts across the Atlantic.  He was successful in securing a sitting with Washington in Philadelphia in 1795, completing a portrait which he would recopy & sell at least 12 times. Martha Washington commissioned new portraits of herself & her husband, and convinced The President to sit once again for Stuart.  The President allowed Stuart another sitting in 1796, for what would become the Lansdowne Portrait. However, Martha Washington would never receive her portrait or her husband's; because Stuart, until his death, made many copies of the new sitting for sale. Martha often fretted to her husband about never receiving her portraits.

1800-02 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) The Poet Sarah Wentwort Morton

Gilbert Stuart was born in Rhode Island in 1755, and died in Boston, Massachusettes in 1828. He fled the colonies in fear of the American Revolution, and he fled the British Isles in fear of creditors. After nearly 20 years in England and Ireland, he returned to the United States to become the leading portraitist of the Federal period.

1800 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Arabella Maria Smith (Mrs. Alexander James Dallas)

Stuart's parents, Jacobite Scot snuff grinders Gilbert Stuart and his wife Elizabeth Anthony, ran a shop in Newport, Rhode Island. When he was reportedly only 10, Stuart painted a very successful depiction of a local Scot Jacobite physician's hounds.

1800 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Abigail Smith (Mrs. John Adams).

The doctor introduced the young boy to fellow Scot portrait painter Cosmo Alexander (1724-1772) in 1769. Stuart traveled with the artist to Philadelphia, Delaware, Virginia, and Edinburgh, learning the art of the portrait along the way, until his tutor died in 1772.

1800 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Henrietta Marchant (Mrs. Robert Liston).

Stuart made his way back to Rhode Island, where he painted several portraits of women; before his loyalist father moved the family to Nova Scotia in 1775, and Stuart headed for London. In 1777, he went to work there for Pennsylvania ex-patriot Benjamin West. As Stuart told artist Matthew Jouett (1787–1827), he was "allowd half a guinea a week for paint(ing) draperies & finishing up Wests portraits."

1800s Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Portrait of a Lady.

In 1777, Stuart exhibited a portrait at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Stuart helped West with his history paintings until 1782, while he personally continued to paint portraits of prominent English gentry, married, had 12 children, and ran up massive debts. His daughter Jane later explained, "the manner in which he lived should not be called extravagant, as his employment warranted the outlay; his distinction as an artist entitled him to it; the class of persons he painted for required it."

1800s Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Marcia Burnes Van Ness.

To persistant escape creditors, Stuart fled London in 1787, heading for Ireland, where his debts piled up again. Leaving unfinished portraits and ever mounting debts behind in Ireland, Stuart moved his family to New York in 1793. 

1800s Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Mrs Barney Smith.

Martha Washington commissioned several portraits of herself & her husband; however, she would never receive her portrait or her husband's, now known as the "Athenaeum" portraits; because Stuart until his death, made many copies of the paintings he would offer for sale, when he needed extra money. Martha fretted to her husband about never receiving her portraits.

1800s Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Sarah Homes Tappan.

Stuart was notorious for not completing his portraits. Mary Tyler Peabody (1804-94) wrote in 1825, "At Stewart's room I saw a portrait of Webster, Mr. Quincy, President Adams and lady, Bishop Griswold, Mr. Taylor, &c. They were all unfinished."

1802 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) Mrs Edward Stow

Twenty years after sitting for Stuart, Thomas Jefferson was still attempting to obtain his portrait from the artist. In response to an inquiry about Stuart from artist Mather Brown (1761–1831), Catherine Byles wrote, "We are told he is one of the best painters in the world & excels in his likeness; he has taken a number of portraits, his price is a hundred dollars; he is indeed very excentrick, he loves a cheerful bottle and does no work in the afternoon; he is very dilatory in finishing his pictures."

1804 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Elizabeth-Beltzhoove (Mrs John Thomson Mason).

But the people who sat for Stuart and did receive their portraits held him in high regard. Female poet Sarah Wentworth Morton was painted by Stuart and wrote in the Philadelphia journal The Port Folio on June 18, 1803, To Mr. Stuart, On His Portrait of Mrs. M
STUART, thy portraits speak, with skill divine;
Round the bright Graces flows the waving line.
Expression in its finest utterance lives,
And a new language to creation gives.
Each varying trait the gifted artist shews,
Wisdom majestic in the bending brows;
The warrior's open front, his eyes of fire,
Or when the charms of bashful youth retire;
Or patient plodding, and with wealth content,
The man of commerce counts his cent per cent.

1804 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Anna Payne Cutts. White House Collection.

Gilbert Stuart died in debt in Boston in 1828. Less than 2 months after his death, the Boston Athenaeum presented memorial exhibition of his portraits for the benefit of his widow and 4 daughters. Almost 250 Stuart portraits, many of Bostonians, were loaned for the highly successful benefit exhibition. His wife would move to Newport, where she would live until 1845.

1775 Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Sarah Rivera (Mrs Aaron Lopez) and son Joshua.

1780 Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Christian Stelle Banister & Son John.

1794 Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Matilda Stoughton de Jaudenes y Nebot.

1796 Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Elizabeth Parke Custis Law

1796 Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Mrs. Robert Morris.

1796 Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Mrs. Thomas Lea.

1796 Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Martha Washington.

1797 Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Mary Willing Clymer

1797 Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Anne Willing Bingham.

1798 Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Elizabeth Corbin Griffin Gatliff & Daughter Elizabeth.

1804 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Sarah McKean, Marquesa de Casa Yrujo.

1804 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Anna Powell Mason.

1804 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Dolley Payne Todd Madison.

1804 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte

1805 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Ann Penington.

1806 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Hepzibah Clarke Swan.

1808 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) Lydia Smith

1809 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis.

1810 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Elizabeth Tuckerman

1811 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Mrs Polly Hooper.

1815 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Mrs. Nathan Bond.

1817 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Mrs. James Smith Colburn.

1819 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Mrs. Joseph Story.

1820 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Mrs. Andrew Sigourney.

1823 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Elizabeth Porter Wheeler.

1824 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) Ann Woodward Haven.

1824 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Miss Clementina Beach.

1824 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Lydia Pickering Williams.

Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Ann Barry

Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Mrs Blades and her daughter

Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Henrietta Hillegas Mrs Joseph Anthony Jr

Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Louisa Catherine Johnson Mrs John Quincy Adams

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