Tuesday, December 3, 2013
December 3 - Gilbert Stuart
Portrait painter Gilbert Stuart was born on December 3, 1755, near Newport, Rhode Island. His father was an early maker of snuff (pulverized tobacco). By age 14 he showed promise as an artist, and from 1777-1793 he established himself as a portrait painter in England and Ireland, where he became famous and commanded high prices. In 1795 he moved his studio from New York to Philadelphia, where he was certain that he could paint President George Washington. Though he established no rapport with Washington, he painted a series of warm, iconic portraits that led to demand for copies, which kept Stuart well paid for many years. Even so, he was constantly near bankruptcy. His most famous likeness of Washington, known as “The Athenaeum,” remained permanently unfinished (pictured). It is shown on the U.S. one dollar bill in reverse. Stuart painted 130 reproductions of this image, most of which he sold for $100 each. Stuart’s large, full-length picture of Washington, known as the Lansdowne portrait, was saved from the East Room of the White House in 1812 by Dolley Madison, assisted by a slave.