THE WORLD OF SAMUEL MEEKER, MERCHANT OF PHILADELPHIA, AND GILBERT STUART, AMERICAN PORTRAIT ARTIST

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dolly Madison is ushered to the White House door

“Stuart is all the rage…”


Dolly, widowed at age 25 with two children upon the sudden death of her first husband from the yellow fever epidemic which swept through the new capital of the United States, met 38 yr old James Madison in Philadelphia in 1794 after having moved there to be with her Quaker family. They were married soon afterwards.

Her parents were strict members of the “Society of Friends”. The young Dolly: “… was wondrously fair. Her mother, who would not permit her to wear jewels, taught her to take care of her complexion. She was sent to school with long gloves on her hands and arms, a close sunbonnet and a white linen mask on her face; in fact it is plain to see that in many ways great attention was bestowed upon the outward as well as the inward graces of the young Friend.” (Life and Letters of Dolly Madison by A. C. Clark, W F Roberts Co, Washington DC 1914; p 13, a quote by Harriet T. Upton.) Just before meeting with Madison; she wrote her friend Mrs. Lee, saying, “Dear friend, thou must come to me. Aaron Burr says that the ‘great little Madison’ has asked to be brought to see me this evening.” She was dressed in a mulberry-colored satin, with a silk tulle kerchief over her neck, and on her head an exquisitely dainty little cap, from which an occasional uncropped curl would escape. In this first interview, at her own house, she captured the heart of the recluse book-worm, Madison… always thought to be an irreclaimable old bachelor.” (Memoirs and Letters of Dolly Madison by Dolley Madison, Lucia Beverly Cutts, Houghton, Mifflin &Co. Boston and NY, 1887, p 15)



Dolly Payne Todd Madison (1768-1849) , 1804 by Gilbert Stuart;

White House Collection



At the time of this portrait of his wife in 1804, James Madison was secretary of state under President Thomas Jefferson, and was elected our 4th President in 1809. Dolly held the FIRST Inaugural Ball, and Washington had never seen such a grand affair! The attendees came from all over the Nation, riding their carriages over muddy and bumpy roads. At this time, James was 54, and Dolly a lovely 41. As First Lady from 1809 to 1817, Dolly was a sparkling asset, using her natural charm, wit, and formidable social skills while hosting numerous lavish entertainments and special occasions at the Executive Mansion. Surely with her trademark costly Parisian gowns (NOTE the empire-waist style as popularized by Josephine), elaborate feathered turbans, wit, charm and intelligence, she rivalled Napoleon’s Josephine in the realm of queenly graciousness on the world stage!


Dolly gained fame in 1812 by saving Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington from being burned by the British in the War of 1812. “Our kind friend, Mr. Carroll, has come to hasten my departure, and in a very bad humor with me, because I insist on waiting until the large picture of General Washington is secured, and it requires to be unscrewed from the wall. This process was found too tedious for these perilous moments; I have ordered the frame to be broken, and the canvas taken out. It is done! and the precious portrait placed in the hands of two gentlemen of New York, for safe keeping.”

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Why is Dolly being ushered out of the White House? Answer will be in the following post! (or click here)

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PS on an artistic note, click on the portrait of Dolly for a closer look at the piece of material draped over her right arm & right-hand lower corner. There are characteristic swift swishes of Stuart's brush (creating a superb depiction of her shawl) and something to look for ...in addition to the skill of drawing the 'likeness of the head'... as "his signature." Wondrous. One can also clearly note the stark similarities in arrangement to the portrait of Samuel Meeker, both portraits done in approx the same time period.


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7 comments:

emikk said...

re in the dark area of the shawl underneath the breast?

emikk said...

...the signature,,,,,

willow said...

A white linen mask on her face? Yikes, it sounds like the KKK~! (teehee) I guess that protected that peaches and cream complexion from the elements.

Wouldn't you love to see video clips of that first inaugural ball?

Maureen said...

As always, fascinating.

einbildungskraft said...

Clarification; Stuart seldom signed his works, but declared once that his signature was "all over the portrait". One may conceive that he meant his signature is 'the whole painting itself' which no one can duplicate!

Anonymous said...

How many pairs of gloves did she buy?!?!?!

Colleen said...

Her Shawl looks like a dachshund is wrapped around her.

 
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