Friday, July 3, 2009

An (easy) telltale clue, to identify a Gilbert Stuart portrait!

As mentioned in the last entry, Jane Stuart is quoted as saying, "In his work there is no appearance of labor, but everything that he did showed force and energy--so long as he kept to the head. When that was completed his enthusiasm seems to have abated. With some notable exceptions, the other parts of his pictures were painted but indifferently..." Besides drapery, surely Gilbert Stuart could have spent more time on the... HANDS ! But in fact, can this rather sloppy negligence, next to a sublime likeness of a face in the same portrait, be considered part of his signature (which he left only very seldom)? 'When asked why he did not put his name or initials, to mark his pictures, he said, "I mark them all over." ' (William Dunlap p218).
detail hand from Samuel Meeker

another example of sloppy hands

Mrs. Edward Stow
by Gilbert Stuart 1802-3 Columbus Museum

From Lawrence Park:

Mrs. Edward Stow (1771-1835)
Anna Brewer, daughter of John and Sarah (Brewer) Peck of Boston. In 1793 she married Edward Stow.
Bordentown, New Jersey, 1802-3. Panel 29 1/8 x 23 1/2 inches. She is shown half-length, seated, three-quarters left, on a sofa covered with red leather and studded with brass-headed nails. Her brown eyes are directed to the spectator, and her brown hair is dressed high on her head with an ornament of flowers, and ringlets on her forehead and temples. She wears a high-waisted, low-necked, short-sleeved, white gown, with a white fichu. A pearl necklace and pearl drop-ear-rings. A parti-colored shawl is falling from her shoulder; her right hand rests on arm of sofa, interlocking fingers with the left hand. In the background is a red curtain, drawn back at left, showing blue sky and clouds.

Note that Anna's husband Edward Stow was also painted by GS; finding this particular portrait, and its remarkable similarities to the portrait of Samuel Meeker, convinced me that I had finally found the right artist! [see entries 2/27/09 & 3/6/09] Note that Gibby also painted Edward's hands with the utmost of indifference.... although the portrait of his wife shows more than the average of interesting detail outside of the face. The Stows and Stuarts were good friends.

Why did the master not paint hands, or draperies, with the same exquisite care as the face? One primary reason is that speed meant more income; Stuart was always struggling with debt. For one thing, he had 12 children!

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