Friday, July 3, 2015

Gilbert Stuart

George Washington
oil on canvas
243.8 × 152.4 cm
US National Portrait Gallery, New York, USA    

Gilbert Charles Stuart (1755-1828) was an American painter from Rhode Island. He is widely considered to be one of America's foremost portraitists. During his career, Stuart painted more than 1,000 portraits, including the first six Presidents of the United States. He set the standard for much of American art to come.

His oil painting is notable for its strong characterization, and fluent brushwork. He imitated none of the Old Masters, preferring to rely on what he saw with his own eyes. He had a great talent for flesh tones, which he obtained by using a wide variety of colours, but he did not mix the pigments: instead he allowed each colour to shine through the subsequent layer, as in a transparent skin. Unusually, he worked without the aid of sketches, drawing directly upon the canvas. His greatest portrait paintings can be seen in the best art museums throughout the United States.

Taught painting by a Scottish painter, he was only 12 years old when he painted the famous portrait of Dr Hunter's Spaniels, which still hangs in the Hunter House Mansion in Newport. By the age of 14 he was regularly accepting commissions. In 1771, he sailed for Scotland, to complete his studies. However, in 1772 his teacher died, leaving Stuart the impossible task of earning a living as a painter in a strange country. The following year he returned to Newport, USA. The outbreak of the American War of Independence prompted him to seek refuge in Britain. After graduating from Glasgow University, he settled in London.

Returning to America in 1793, he quickly established himself as the country's foremost portraitist, with his paintings of rich and successful Americans, including the first six American Presidents. George Washington first posed for Stuart in Philadelphia, in 1794. In addition to George Washington, he also painted the portraits of the next five Presidents including John Adams (2nd), Thomas Jefferson (3rd), James Madison (4th), James Monroe (5th), and John Quincy Adams (6th President). In 1824, he suffered a stroke, which left him partially paralyzed, although he continued to work until his death in Boston, four years later.