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Gilbert Stuart
George Washington
1796
Oil on canvas

28 3/4 x 23 3/4 inches
Given by Edward S. Harkness, 1924, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC

National Portrait Gallery

George Washington, Oil on canvas, 1796, 28 3/4 x 23 3/4 inches, Given by Edward S. Harkness, 1924, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC

Excerpt from National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC:

Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755-1828)

Because he portrayed virtually all the notable men and women of the Federal period in the United States, Gilbert Stuart was declared the "Father of American Portraiture" by his contemporaries. Born in Rhode Island, the artist trained and worked in London, England, and Dublin, Ireland, from 1775 to 1793. He then returned to America with the specific intention of painting President Washington’s portrait.

Stuart resided in New York (1793-1795) Philadelphia (1795-1803), where he did his first portrait of George Washington and the new capital at Washington, D.C. (1803-1805). In 1805 he settled in Boston and painted the Gibbs-Coolidge Set, the only surviving depiction of all five first presidents. Before his death at seventy-two, Stuart also taught many followers. A charming conversationalist, Stuart entertained his sitters during long hours of posing to sustain the fresh spontaneity of their expressions. To emphasize facial characterization, he eliminated unnecessary accessories and preferred dark, neutral backgrounds and simple, bust- or half-length formats.

Stuart often was irritatingly slow in completing commissions, in spite of his swift, bravura brushwork. Though he inevitably commanded high prices, Stuart lived on the verge of bankruptcy throughout his career because of his extravagant lifestyle and inept business dealings. In London, for instance, he had owned a carriage, an unheard-of presumption for a commoner. And Stuart’s years in Ireland, both coming and going, had been ploys to escape debtors prison.

Continued, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC


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Gilbert Stuart, American, (1755–1828)
b. December 3, 1755, Saunderstown, RI
d. 1828

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