Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of George Washington 1840s

Jane Stuart 

Portrait of George Washington, Jane Stuart
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Oil on canvas
19th Century
17 x 17 inches, 43 x 43 cm
 
Provenance:
According to an inscription verso; F. P Garretson, 142 Mill Street, Newport, RI American Private Collection
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Gilbert Stuartís portrait of George Washington has not only become the definitive image of Americaís first President, but also of the struggle for independence itself. The so-called ĎAthenaeumí portrait, which was done from life in 1796, became the model for numerous copies, due to the enormous demand for Washington''s portrait. This example derives directly from Stuartís Athenaeum portrait, and was painted by his daughter Jane. Other artists also copied Stuartís portraits, but Janeís are credited with being some of the most accomplished.

As Gilbert Stuartís assistant, whom he often tasked to paint backgrounds as well as more menial tasks such as grinding colours, Jane Stuart was perfectly placed to make faithful and inspired replicas of Americaís most famous portrait.

It is not known at what date Jane Stuart painted this version. Her fatherís prime version, the unfinished Athenaeum portrait, did not leave his studio till after his death, and was used specifically for making copies. Eventually both portraits of Washington and Mrs Washington were bought in 1831 and presented to the Boston Athenaeum, which still owns them, jointly with the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC. It is possible that Jane Stuart made this copy before the prime version was removed from her fatherís studio, perhaps even before his death in 1828.

Jane Stuart had her own studio in Boston, and after her fatherís death continued a modestly successful portrait practice. She also painted genre and subject pictures. Sadly, her studio was destroyed by fire 1850, and Jane not only lost many of her own works, but much of her fatherís correspondence. She moved to Newport, Rhode Island, with her sister Anne. She supported her family entirely, and derived most of her income from painting. Copies of her fatherís Washington portrait were popular and lucrative (as her father had found). Many examples still survive today, and versions can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Harvard University Art Collection, as well as other private collections. Other works by Jane Stuart, including copies of portraits of Martha Washington, are found in the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston.

The admiration that Jane Stuart felt for her father, and he for Washington, is an important key to this painting. ''It is impossible for any human being,'' she relates, ''to have a more exalted admiration (and I might say love) than my father had for Washington.''1 He was ''perfectly satisfied with [his portraits of Washington], and always expressed himself to that effect in private and in public; he was in fact proud of his success.''2 Stuart's estimation of the portrait was so high, indeed, that he counted it the best painted representation of the President, explaining ''in the most emphatic manner: Houdon''s bust [1783] came first and my head of him next. When I painted him he had just had a set of false teeth inserted, which explains the constrained expression so noticeable about the mouth and lower part of the face. Houdon''s bust does not suffer from this defect. I wanted him as he looked at that time.''3

The size and composition of this replica by Jane Stuart, on a plain background within a simple oval, lends the painting an air of intimacy. And yet, Jane Stuartís faithful, even meticulous, following of her fatherís portrait has ensured that Washington loses neither character nor gravitas.

Notes
1. Stuart, Jane. The Stuart Portraits of Washington, Scribner''s Monthly 12, no.3 (July 1876): p.371. published Cornell University online Making of America
2. ibid. p.370
3. ibid.
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