Stuart, Gilbert

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Stuart, Gilbert,

1755–1828, American portrait painter, b. North Kingstown, R.I., best known for his portraits of George Washington. Having shown an early talent for drawing, he became the pupil of Cosmo Alexander, a Scottish painter who was visiting America. He went with him to Edinburgh but returned to America after Alexander's death in 1773. When the Revolution threatened, he sailed to London. He became a protégé of Benjamin WestWest, Benjamin,
1738–1820, American historical painter who worked in England. He was born in Springfield, Pa., in a house that is now a memorial museum at Swarthmore College.
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, remaining with him for nearly five years. During this period he exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy of Arts and won renown with his Portrait of a Gentleman Skating (1782). Although he was then eminently successful, his extravagant mode of living kept him in constant debt. In 1787 he moved to Dublin.

Stuart returned to America, first living in Philadelphia and later settling permanently in Boston, where he became the most celebrated portrait painter of his day. He painted three portraits of Washington from life and more than 100 replicas of these three. His first, the so-called Vaughan type (1795), is a bust with the right side of the face shown; there are at least 15 replicas in existence, one of which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The second, the Lansdowne type (1796), painted for the marquess of Lansdowne, is a full-length study of the president; the original is in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The third, unfinished, the Athenaeum Head (Mus. of Fine Arts, Boston, and National Portrait Gall., Smithsonian) named for the version once owned by the Boston Athenæum, was commissioned (c.1796) by Martha Washington. The artist kept the original version while she had to remain content with one of the 75 replicas he subsequently painted. This portrait has been immortalized by the engraving on the U.S. one-dollar bill.

Stuart's elegant and brilliant style, partially modeled after ReynoldsReynolds, Sir Joshua,
1723–92, English portrait painter, b. Devonshire. Long considered historically the most important of England's painters, by his learned example he raised the artist to a position of respect in England.
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 and GainsboroughGainsborough, Thomas
, 1727–88, English portrait and landscape painter, b. Sudbury. In 1740 he went to London and became the assistant and pupil of the French engraver Hubert Gravelot.
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, is seen at its best in such portraits as those of Mrs. Richard Yates (National Gall. of Art, Washington, D.C.), Josef and Matilda de Jaudenes y Nebot (Metropolitan Mus.), and John Adams (N.Y. Historical Society). He painted these and many other notable figures of the day including Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, James and Dolley Madison, Abigail Adams, John Jay, John Jacob Astor, his mentor West, Reynolds, John Singleton Copley, John Trumbell, Washington Allston, and other artists, and a wide variety of members of the mainly American and British elite. The greater part of Stuart's works are in collections in Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia.


See R. McLanathan, Gilbert Stuart: The Father of American Portraiture (1986); D. Evans, The Genius of Gilbert Stuart (1999); C. R. Barratt and E. G. Miles, Gilbert Stuart (2004).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Stuart, Gilbert


Born Dec. 3, 1755, in Narragansett, R.I.; died July 9, 1828, in Boston. American painter.

Stuart first studied with C. Alexander in 1769 and lived and worked in Great Britain and Ireland from 1773 to 1792. One of the founders of the American portrait school, Stuart embodied in his work the ideas of the progressive bourgeois enlightenment of the period of the liberation struggle of the British colonies in North America. His best portraits, such as The Skater (portrait of W. Grant, 1782) and George Washington (1795)—both in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.—are marked by a mastery of psychological analysis, strict truthfulness, and a natural character portrayal.


Iur’eva, T. S. “Gilbert Stiuart i amerikanskaia portretnaia zhivopis’ XVIII stoletiia.” In the collection Problemy razvitiia zarubezhnogo iskusstva, issue 4. Leningrad, 1974. Pages 53–59.
Flexner, J. T. Gilbert Stuart. New York, 1955.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Stuart, Gilbert (Charles)

(1755–1828) painter; born in North Kingston, R.I. Showing an early talent for drawing, he followed the Scottish painter Cosmos Alexander to Edinburgh (1772); returning to Rhode Island (1773), he was unable to advance with his painting so he went to London (1775) where, between 1775 and 1782 he studied with Benjamin West. His Portrait of a Gentleman Skating (1782) gained such praise that he was soon busy painting portraits of wealthy British. Extravagant and careless in his spending habits, he fled London (1787) to avoid debtors prison; in Dublin, Ireland, he repeated the pattern—a successful portraitist but also a debtor. He returned to America (1793), settling in Philadelphia where he painted two life portraits of George Washington; the third, the famous unfinished Athanaeum Head was painted in nearby Germantown, Pa. (1796). He moved his studio to Washington, D.C. (1803–05), then settled permanently in Boston. Known for his wit and knowledgeable talk but also for his touchiness and taking snuff, his reputation as a portraitist remains as high as ever, especially for his luminous coloring effects.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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