These are the 12 most famous paintings by Gilbert Stuart.
Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) was a highly influential American portrait painter, renowned for his iconic portraits of key figures from the early days of the United States, including several Presidents. Born in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, Stuart displayed artistic talent from a young age and received early training in the arts in Newport, Rhode Island.
In 1775, Stuart moved to England to study under the esteemed American expatriate painter Benjamin West. While in London, he honed his skills and established himself as a portrait artist, gaining recognition for his ability to capture the character and likeness of his subjects.
Stuart returned to the United States in 1793, where he quickly became the preferred portraitist for the country’s political and social elite. One of his most famous works is the Unfinished Portrait of George Washington, often referred to as the Athenaeum Portrait or the Unfinished Portrait. Despite being incomplete, this portrayal of Washington became the basis for the image on the one-dollar bill.
Stuart’s portraits are characterized by a keen psychological insight, masterful use of light and shadow, and a distinctive style that set him apart in the early American art scene. His ability to capture the essence of his subjects earned him the nickname The American Van Dyck.
While Stuart achieved considerable success as a portrait painter, his financial management was less successful, and he struggled with debt throughout his life. Despite his challenges, he continued to produce portraits of prominent figures, significantly impacting the visual representation of America’s founding generation.
Gilbert Stuart’s portraits remain some of the most iconic images from early American history. His legacy extends beyond his artistic achievements, as his portraits of figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have become integral to the visual documentation of the nation’s founding era. Today, his works are housed in major museums and collections, serving as enduring representations of the individuals who played crucial roles in shaping the United States.
The Skater (1782)
This is a portrait capturing the lively essence of William Grant, a British nobleman. Dressed in elegant attire, Grant exudes energy as if frozen mid-skate. Stuart’s masterful brushwork and the subject’s dynamic pose make this portrait a notable – and certainly unique example of 18th-century portraiture.
Peter Stuyvesant, New York landowner and merchant (1793–1795)
Peter Stuyvesant was a Dutch colonial director-general of New Netherland, serving from 1647 to 1664. Known for his strong leadership, he defended the colony against English incursions. In 1664, faced with overwhelming English forces, he surrendered New Netherland to the English, establishing New York. Stuyvesant was recognized for his autocratic rule, his wooden leg, and his efforts to maintain Dutch control in the Americas. Despite his defeat, his legacy endures as a key figure in the early history of Dutch colonization in North America.
Mohawk leader Joseph Brant (1785)
Joseph Brant, Thayendanegea was a prominent Mohawk leader and diplomat during the American Revolutionary War. A skilled warrior and orator, he supported the British, leading Iroquois forces against the American rebels. After the war, he advocated for Native American rights and negotiated with the British and American governments. Brant played a crucial role in the creation of the Haudenosaunee, also known as Six Nations, a reserve in Canada. Fluent in English, he adapted to Western culture, becoming a respected statesman. His complex legacy reflects the challenges faced by Native leaders navigating the tumultuous changes brought about by European colonization and the American Revolution.
Portrait of James Monroe (1820–1822)
James Monroe was the fifth President of the United States, serving from 1817 to 1825. A Founding Father, he played vital roles in American history, including negotiating the Louisiana Purchase. Monroe’s presidency was marked by the Monroe Doctrine, asserting U.S. influence in the Americas. He presided during the Era of Good Feelings, promoting national unity. Prior roles included Minister to France and Secretary of State. His presidency is often termed the Era of Good Feelings. Monroe’s legacy encompasses his contributions to American diplomacy, territorial expansion, and his influence on shaping early U.S. foreign policy.
Anna Payne Cutts, sister of First Lady Dolley Madison (1804)
Anna Payne Cutts was the sister of Dolley Madison, the renowned First Lady of the United States. Anna, part of the influential Payne family, married Richard Cutts, a congressman. As a member of Washington, D.C.’s social elite, she played a significant role in the city’s social scene. Tragically, Anna and her husband both died young, leaving behind a daughter named Dolley Payne Cutts. Anna Payne Cutts is remembered for her familial connections and contributions to the social life of the early 19th-century capital, reflecting the interconnectedness of political and social spheres in Washington during that period.
Rosalie Stier Calvert and daughter Carolina Maria (1804)
Rosalie Stier Calvert was a Belgian-born American plantation owner and diarist. She married George Calvert, a member of the prominent Calvert family in Maryland, and the couple managed the Riversdale Plantation. Rosalie is recognized for her detailed diaries that provide insights into plantation life, social customs, and her interactions with notable figures of the time. Her writings offer a unique perspective on the challenges and privileges of the planter class in the early 19th century.
Portrait of John Jay (1794)
John Jay was a Founding Father, diplomat, and statesman who played a crucial role in the early United States. Jay served as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1789 to 1795 and co-authored The Federalist Papers. He negotiated the Treaty of Paris of 1783, which ended the Revolutionary War, as well as the Jay Treaty in 1794 with Great Britain. Jay’s contributions extended to the drafting of the New York State Constitution and serving as Governor of New York.
Jérôme Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon Bonaparte (1804)
Jérôme Bonaparte was a French naval officer and the youngest brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. He gained prominence in the United States by marrying Elizabeth Patterson, an American, in 1803. The union was disapproved by Napoleon, leading to its annulment. Jérôme later returned to France, serving in the navy. Despite his brother’s disapproval, he played a diplomatic role, notably as the King of Westphalia. After Napoleon’s fall, Jérôme lived in the United States and held various naval and political positions in France. His life reflects the complex dynamics within the Bonaparte family and the political upheavals of the Napoleonic era.
The fourth President of the United States, James Madison (1804)
James Madison was an influential American statesman and Founding Father who played a pivotal role in shaping the U.S. Constitution. As the fourth President of the United States from 1809 to 1817, Madison navigated the challenges of the War of 1812. Often hailed as the Father of the Constitution, he co-authored The Federalist Papers and played a key role in drafting the Bill of Rights. Madison’s political career also included serving as Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson.
Lansdowne Portrait (1796)
The Lansdowne Portrait by Gilbert Stuart is an iconic portrait of George Washington. Commissioned to mark Washington’s retirement, it presents the first president as a dignified and statesmanlike figure. The detailed rendering of Washington’s features and the symbolic elements make it one of the most celebrated portraits of the founding father.
Horatio Gates (1794)
Horatio Gates (1727–1806) was a British-born American general who played a significant role in the American Revolutionary War. Initially serving as a British officer, he later joined the Continental Army. Gates achieved a major victory at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, a turning point in the war. However, his reputation suffered after setbacks in the Southern theater. Gates is best known for his role at Saratoga and for presiding over the court-martial of Benedict Arnold.
Athenaeum Portrait (1796)
The Athenaeum Portrait by Gilbert Stuart is an unfinished but renowned depiction of George Washington. This iconic image served as the basis for the image of Washington on the U.S. one-dollar bill. It captures Washington’s solemn demeanor, emphasizing his role as a revered statesman and the first President of the United States.
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