Did you know that Gilbert Stuart was born today in 1755? He was an artist best known for his portraits. Gilbert Stuart was born in the colony of Rhode Island and trained in Scotland and England. He painted portraits for more than 1,000 people including the first six American presidents, Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, and King George III and King George IV of the United Kingdom. His most famous portrait is of George Washington; it is the image used on the United States one-dollar bill. Currently, Gilbert Stuart’s works are displayed in many museums including the White House, National Gallery of Art, and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC.
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Gilbert Stuart started his training as an artist when he was about 14. When he was 16, he moved with his tutor, Cosmo Alexander, to Scotland. After a year, Alexander passed away. Stuart tried to pursue a painting career, but did not thrive. He returned to Newport, Rhode Island. After the start of the American Revolution, he returned to England and trained with some of the preeminent artists of the time such as Benjamin West. Stuart stayed in England for almost 18 years before returning to the United States.
While Gilbert Stuart was a master artist and had a steady stream of well-paid commissions, he was a failure at keeping financially solvent. While in England, he was almost sent to debtor’s prison, but fled to Ireland. Despite his popularity as a painter in America, when he died, he left his family in debt. He was buried in an unmarked grave. After 10 years, his family recovered from his financial disaster, but had forgotten exactly where he was buried, so he could not be moved to the family cemetery. The Boston Common Burying Ground contains a monument for Gilbert Stuart and his family.
Gilbert Stuart’s work is displayed in museums throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. Some of those museums include the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The portrait of George Washington used for the one-dollar bill is called the Athenaeum Portrait. The portrait is actually unfinished, but Stuart used it as a reference to make copies and reproductions, which he sold.
Another famous portrait of George Washington is the Lansdowne portrait. A copy of the portrait is on display in the White House as well as the National Portrait Gallery. During the war of 1812, Dolley Madison saved this painting from the White House, when the British started to burn Washington.