Gilbert Stuart was one of 18th century America ‘s master portrait artists. Stuart is best known for his unfinished Athenaeum portrait of George Washington. This is the image seen on the U.S. one dollar bill.
On December 3, 1755, Gilbert Stuart was born in the room above his father’s snuff mill in Saunderstown, RI. In 1761, when young Gilbert was six, his family moved to Newport. It was there that he began to show his painting ability. Gilbert’s first known painting, “Dr. Hunter’s Dogs,” was done at the age of 14. As a teen, he studied and traveled with the Scottish artist, Cosmo Alexander.
Stuart moved to England in 1775 and eventually studied in London with the famous American painter, Benjamin West. He gained fame after being recognized by the Royal Academy and moved to his own studio. Stuart married Charlotte Coates and lived in England until 1787 when he fled to Ireland to escape debts.
In 1793 Gilbert Stuart returned to the United States. He lived and worked in New York for two years then moved to Philadelphia. It was there that he painted many of his George Washington portraits. In 1805 he moved to Boston where he lived until his death, at the age of 72, on July 9, 1828. He is buried in the Boston Common in an unmarked grave.
Gilbert Stuart left a legacy of memorable portraits, over one thousand done in his lifetime. He immortalized Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Adams, and John Quincy Adams, heroes of the Revolution and War of 1812, prominent statesmen, and society men and women of the day. He was an artistic genius known for capturing a sitter’s essence. Just look into the eyes of his portraits and one will see and appreciate his extraordinary aptitude.
Gilbert Stuart’s portraits can be seen in fine art museums and galleries all over the world.
Image by Gilbert Stuart, 1778 “Self-Portrait in a Reuben’s Hat”