Portrait of George Washington attributed to Gilbert Stuart
Portrait of George Washington attributed to Gilbert Stuart Portrait of George Washington attributed to Gilbert Stuart
Portrait of George Washington attributed to Gilbert Stuart

Portrait of George Washington attributed to Gilbert Stuart

  • This portrait of George Washington represents the most recognizable American painting ever made
  • Attributed to Gilbert Stuart, the work is based on the famed Athenaeum portrait of the first president
  • Stuart's likeness served as the basis for the engraving of Washington on the one-dollar bill
  • The work perfectly translates the personality and power of this great leader on canvas
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Item No. 30-8850
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Attributed to Gilbert Stuart
1755-1828 | American

Portrait of George Washington

Oil on canvas

Perhaps the most recognizable American painting ever made, Gilbert Stuart's Athenaeum portrait of President George Washington is among the great masterpieces of American art. Taking its name from the time it hung in the collection of the Boston Athenaeum, today Stuart's portrait is jointly owned by the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The present work, painted by Gilbert later in his career, captures George Washington as he appears in Stuart's original Athenaeum portrait, perfectly translating the personality and power of this great American leader onto canvas.

Stuart created three iconic portraits of Washington during his lifetime, all within distinctive settings: the Vaughn type, the Lansdowne type and the Athenaeum type. Named for their original owners, they represent the most iconic views of the man who served as the first President of the United States. The Athenaeum portrait is undoubtedly the most popular and well known of the three. First executed from life in 1796, the portrait remains the likeness that is most often associated with Washington, perhaps because it is this version that served as the basis for the engraving of Washington that appears on the one-dollar bill.

Due to its popularity, the Athenaeum portrait was reproduced a number of times by Stuart throughout his career - the present portrait is one of these later versions. Set against a dark background, the subject is depicted in a white lace shirt with a black velvet jacket, details that are not found in Stuart's original Athenaeum portrait, which was left unfinished. The artist would continuously reinvented Washington's costume in his replicas of the original work, though the lace shirt and black jacket are among the most well-known versions.

Born in Rhode Island in 1755, Gilbert Stuart showed great promise as an artist as early as the age of seven. In 1770, he became acquainted with Scottish portraitist Cosmo Alexander, a visitor of the colonies who became a tutor to Stuart. Stuart later moved to Scotland with Alexander in 1771 to finish his studies, though Alexander died in Edinburgh one year later. Stuart tried unsuccessfully to maintain a living and pursue his painting career, but was eventually forced to return to his native Rhode Island in 1773.

His ambitions to become a painter were jeopardized by the outbreak of the American Revolution. Seeking a means of escape, he decided to set sail for England in 1775. He quickly became a student of fellow American portraitist Benjamin West, whose tutelage was so great that Stuart was exhibiting at the Royal Academy within two years. Stuart’s career in London proved a template for his experiences throughout his life. He was highly successful, painting wealthy and titled patrons and never lacking for work. However, he had a penchant for spending more than he earned, and was forced to flee the country due to the incredible debt he amassed, returning to America in 1793. In 1795, he moved to Philadelphia, where he opened his famous studio. It was here where he would gain not only a foothold in the art world, but lasting eminence with his portraits of the most important Americans of the day.

Circa 1815

Canvas: 30 1/8" high x 24 1/8" wide
Frame: 39 3/4" high x 34 1/4" wide
specifications
Period: 1700-1815
Origin:America
Subject:Portrait
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