Gilbert Stuart Captures Founders For Posterity
Gilbert Stuart was one of the greatest Painters of his generation.
Most of the images we recognize today of the Founders…from money to monuments…come from Stuart’s hand.
At just 14 years of age, Gilbert Stuart was discovered by a European Painter who was passing through Rhode Island on a tour of the British colonies.
The Painter, Cosmo Alexander, brought Stuart to Scotland to hone his craft. Unfortunately, Alexander passed away the following year and the young pupil was forced to return to America.
Five years later, Stuart had come of age and returned to Great Britain to resume his training. On this trip he came to the attention of another American in Europe: Benjamin West.
Under the tutelage of West, Stuart became a master Portrait Artist. He began getting hired by wealthy Brits to paint their profiles as well as exhibiting his work publicly.
In response to criticism at his inability to capture a subjects’ full body, Gilbert created The Skater (pictured above) which launched his career. Suddenly, his talent was in demand and he could command large fees.
Stuart, great painter that he was, did not have the same talent for finances and overspent his earnings. He fled from England to Ireland then back to the United States to dodge debtors’ prison, though financial troubles would haunt him for the rest of his life.
During the two decades which Gilbert Stuart lived overseas, the United States had declared independence and won the Revolutionary War.
Stuart set up shop in Pennsylvania which was his base when he began painting the American Founders.
Many of the images we know and love of the Founding Generation were created by Stuart, including the image of George Washington on the $1 bill. In fact, Gilbert painted portraits of the first six Presidents, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, first two first ladies, and many, many, many other Founders.
Stuart was able to attract such high-profile clients because, while other painters required their subjects to sit perfectly still for a substantial amount of time, he was able to allow his models to relax and move freely. John Adams even noted that sitting for Stuart was great fun due to his lively conversation.
Stuart eventually relocated to Boston where he spent the last twenty-three years of his life.
Though he made a small fortune selling copies of his paintings of famous Americans, Gilbert continued with financial troubles till the end of his days.
When he died, he was first buried in an unmarked grave as his family could not afford a proper funeral. Shortly thereafter, a large exhibit of his work was displayed and the production received critical acclaim.
More importantly, enough money was raised to give him the gravestone he needed. Unfortunately, it was too late. His family was unable to locate his body and the final resting place of one of America’s great artists has been lost to time.
Follow this site to read about another Founder tomorrow!
Until then, check out one of these articles on other Founding Artists.
Want to read a great biography of Gilbert Stuart?
‘The Genius of Gilbert Stuart’ is, in my opinion, the best book written about this master artist.
Pick up a copy through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same) but be warned, it is very rare and therefore expensive.
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