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March 27 - July 31, 2005
Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), the most successful portraitist of the early American republic, is known for his paintings of some of the most famous men and women of his era. Stuart's first retrospective in nearly four decades includes 91 works demonstrating the artist's exceptional talent in the depiction of likeness and character. Representing all periods of the artist's long career, the exhibition features works drawn from private collections and museums in America and Europe. Gilbert Stuart is on view in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art from March 27 through July 31, 2005, a period that includes several patriotic holidays: Memorial Day, May 30; Flag Day, June 14; and Independence Day, July 4.
A highlight of the exhibition will be the display of thirteen of Stuart's portraits of George Washington, including his celebrated Lansdowne portrait of 1796, acquired in 2001 by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC; the Vaughan likeness in the collection of the National Gallery of Art; and the unfinished Athenaeum image, co-owned by the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
"The Gilbert Stuart exhibition is one of the most important ever presented by the National Portrait Gallery. We are grateful to our partner, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for co-organizing the exhibition, and to the National Gallery of Art, which has kindly lent its handsome galleries for Gilbert Stuart while ours are closed for renovation," said Marc Pachter, director, National Portrait Gallery. "Our enduring gratitude goes to the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation for supporting this exhibition and the Portrait Gallery's acquisition of Gilbert Stuart's great Lansdowne portrait as a gift to the nation."
"It is particularly gratifying to be presenting this exhibition in Washington, a city whose fiirst leaders are so memorably captured in Stuart's portraits," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "We are very grateful to Target for once again supporting an important exhibition at the Gallery, making our rich cultural heritage available to all."
"At Target, we believe in making the arts accessible to as many audiences as possible," said Laysha Ward, vice president, community relations, Target Corporation. "Through our partnership with the National Gallery of Art, we are able to expand exposure to the arts, which creates awareness for other points of view and helps build stronger communities."
Target was the corporate sponsor of Frederic Remington: The Color of Night in 2003 and The Cubist Paintings of Diego Rivera in 2004 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Arranged chronologically, the exhibition follows Stuart's career from its start in his hometown of Newport, Rhode Island, to its conclusion some five decades later in Boston, Massachusetts. It includes works painted in each of seven cities -- Newport, London, Dublin, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Boston -- in which the artist practiced his trade and attracted clientele. Stuart spent eighteen highly successful years in London and Dublin (1775-1793) before returning to America to embark on a career that included painting President George Washington and his successors.
The exhibition offers an unparalleled opportunity to view Stuart's presidential portraits spanning the first five administrations, a remarkable fact that has marked him as the preeminent painter of early national America. His most famous works are his portraits of George Washington, familiar today as the source of the face on the United States one-dollar bill. Thirteen Washington portraits are presented in the exhibition. During sittings with Washington in 1795 and 1796, Stuart created three portrait types: a bust-length facing to the viewer's right, known as the Vaughan portrait; another facing to the viewer's left, called the Athenaeum version; and a full-length known as the Lansdowne. The exhibition brings together two of the original paintings as well as several variations of each type. One room of the exhibition at the National Gallery of Art is devoted to four full-length portraits that have never before been seen together, and another, to the bust-length images.
In addition to the Washington portraits, on view are John Adams (c. 1800-1815) and Abigail Smith Adams (c. 1800-1815), paintings that Stuart finished more than a decade after they were begun. For the first time in more than a century, the portrait Dolley Payne Todd Madison (1804), in the collection of the White House, is shown together with James Madison (1804), from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The exhibition also includes three portraits of Thomas Jefferson and two of James Monroe.
The son of a Scottish émigré who settled near Newport, Rhode Island, Gilbert Stuart demonstrated a precocious artistic talent. He honed his skills during a trip to Edinburgh in 1772, and upon his return to Newport, attracted the local merchants to sit for portraits. The first signs of his technical skill are apparent in relatively primitive works fashioned according to the model of contemporary American and Scottish portraiture, such as the ambitious double portrait of Francis Malbone and his Brother Saunders (1774), painted when the artist was not yet 20. His portrait of a close friend, Benjamin Waterhouse (1775), shows vast improvement, and after this accomplishment he sought additional training abroad. (right: Gilbert Stuart, George Washington (The Lansdowne Portrait), 1796, oil on canvas, 247.7 x 158.8 cm (97 1/2 x 62 1/2 inches); 283.2 x 192.4 cm (111 1/2 x 75 3/4 inches). National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington. Acquired as a gift to the nation through the generosity of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.)
In 1775, Stuart traveled to London to seek his fortune, securing a position in 1777 as an assistant to the renowned mentor of American expatriate painters, Benjamin West (1738-1820), historical painter to King George III. Stuart benefited greatly from this relationship and, with the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts of his highly acclaimed full-length portrait The Skater (William Grant) (1782), the young American established his own studio in London. Stuart was also on excellent terms with the Academy's president, Sir Joshua Reynolds, who recommended him for many commissions, and print seller John Boydell, who, in 1782, ordered fifteen portraits of contemporary artists from Stuart; five of them will be on view in the exhibition. As his career advanced, Stuart demonstrated what would become lifelong traits: an unusual insight into personalities, an outgoing and irreverent manner, and a somewhat rebellious spirit.
After a decade of success in London, Stuart moved to the thriving city of Dublin, executing grand commissions with little competition. Among his most important works from the period is a portrait of the newly appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland, John FitzGibbon (1789-1790), whose regal pose Stuart would use again later in his career. His Irish clients-who received him as a British painter and commissioned paintings on the grand scale they expected from an artist trained in London-may have been surprised to learn of Stuart's American roots when he spoke of returning to his native soil to paint the new president of the United States.
In 1793, the artist sailed for New York, where he would make the proper connections to gain a sitting with President George Washington. He received numerous commissions, which he completed with great speed and skill, such as the portraits of a wealthy merchant and his wife, Richard Yates and Catherine Brass Yates (both 1793-1794). Ultimately, through his patron, the diplomat John Jay -- whose portrait he painted in 1794 -- the necessary introductions were made, and assured of sittings with Washington, Stuart went to Philadelphia, then the nation's capital.
Stuart lived in Philadelphia until 1803, and, in addition to painting Washington, made portraits of many residents and visitors to the city. A tour-de-force, Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton (c. 1800-1802) portrays the so-called American Sappho, a poetess and great beauty who inspired one of Stuart's most captivating works. He followed the federal government to Washington, DC, where he continued to paint the country's leaders. A number of his sitters came from the diplomatic corps, resulting in works such as Jerome Bonaparte (1804) and a portrait of his stunning wife, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte (1804), painted just after their marriage.
Stuart spent his last two decades in Boston, where patrons greatly admired his work. Despite unpredictable delays and crankiness, which increased in Stuart's old age, his paintings never decreased in expression or skill. His portrait of a retired general, Henry Knox (1806), was a monumental success. His delicate likeness of a young lady on the eve of her marriage, Lydia Smith (c. 1808-1810), is a portrayal of great sensitivity. At a time when portraits were used in the United States to celebrate national achievement and promote public heroes as well as to celebrate the lives of private individuals, Stuart set a new standard of elegance and incisiveness in portraiture for his sitters, his colleagues, and his students.
Gilbert Stuart has been organized by the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art and is presented in Washington in association with the National Gallery of Art. The National Gallery of Art is pleased to present this exhibition during the major renovation of the National Portrait Gallery, scheduled to reopen in July 2006.
Carrie Rebora Barratt is curator of American paintings and sculpture, and manager of The Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has curated exhibitions on John Singleton Copley, Thomas Sully, and others, as well as thematic shows on American folk art, portraits of artists, period frames, and American drawings. Future projects include an exhibition on narrative painting; a study of the intersection of English and American painting of the eighteenth century; and a collection catalogue of the Metropolitan's American portrait miniatures. As manager of The Luce Center, the American Wing's visible storage facility, she oversees the display and electronic cataloguing of over 10,000 works of American fine and decorative art on view in that facility. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago, she received her M.A. from the University of California at Los Angeles and her Ph.D. from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. (right Carrie Rebora Barratt. Photo courtesy of National Gallery of Art)
Ellen Miles is chair of the department of painting and sculpture at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, and was selected in 2004 as the Smithsonian Secretary's Distinguished Research Lecturer. She received a 2002/2003 Getty Curatorial Research Fellowship for research for the exhibition catalogue Gilbert Stuart . Other recent publications include "Gilbert Stuart's Portraits of George Washington," in George Washington: A National Treasure, published in 2002 by the National Portrait Gallery to accompany the exhibition of Stuart's Lansdowne portrait of Washington, and the catalogue for the exhibition George and Martha Washington: Portraits from the Presidential Years, held at the National Portrait Gallery in 1999. She also is author of American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century (Washington, D.C., 1995), part of the National Gallery of Art's series of systematic catalogues of its permanent collection. Earlier publications include Saint-Mémin and the Neoclassical Profile Portrait in America (National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian Press, 1994), a study and catalogue of the work of late eighteenth century profilist C.B.J. Févret de Saint-Mémin, and American Colonial Portraits: 1700-1776 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987), with Richard H. Saunders. She was co-curator of the exhibition of that title at the National Portrait Gallery in 1987 and is editor of a collection of related conference papers, The Portrait in Eighteenth-Century America (University of Delaware Press, 1993). A 1964 graduate of Bryn Mawr College, she received her Ph.D. from Yale University in 1976. (left Ellen Miles. Photo courtesy of National Gallery of Art)
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