Friday, January 21, 2011

one of his 'finest portraits of men' & "...we cannot but regret that Stuart did not sometimes ... leave us American landscapes"

Two posts back I described a noted Philadelphian socialite considered a beauty in her time (Mrs. Samuel Blodget); today I introduce her father Dr. William Smith. Lawrence Park says of the Stuart portrait of Dr. Smith, “This is one of the finest portraits of men Stuart painted in this country.” Very fine praise by Park! I also think his description of the painting is interesting so I include it here.

From Lawrence Park:

Doctor William Smith 1727-1803

William Smith was born near Aberdeen, Scotland, and graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 1747. He came to America in 1751 as a tutor in the family of Governor Martin on Long Island. In 1753 he was invited to take charge of the newly founded College and Academy of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He first went to England to take clerical orders and after his return was inducted into the office of provost, May, 1754. In 1758 he married Rebecca Moore (1733-1784), daughter of William Moore of Moore Hall, Chester County, Pennsylvania. He revisited England in 1759 and returned the same year vested with the degree of D.D. from the universities of Oxford and Aberdeen and Trinity College, Dublin. The extraordinary activity of Doctor Smith made the college a prominent institution in all the colonies. He was a most active worker in the church and in the field of science, literature and education, taking also part in the discussion of political and social questions. In 1779 he moved to Chestertown, Maryland, became rector of a parish, and in 1782 aided in founding Washington College there, of which he was chosen president. When the charter of the College of Philadelphia (made void in 1779) was restored in 1789 and during the succeeding two years, Dr. Smith was its provost.
Philadelphia, 1800. Canvas 37 x 60 inches. This is one of the finest portraits of men Stuart painted in this country. It is a large half-length, nearly twice as wide as it is high. Dr. William Smith is shown seated in a high-backed arm-chair, turned half-way to the left, with his eyes directed to the spectator. His gray hair is thin on top of his head and rather long and wavy over his ears and in back. He wears the gown of a doctor of divinity of Oxford: black, with scarlet hood and a sheer white cambric bib. His left hand rests on the arm of the chair, while his right, which holds a quill pen, rests on some sheets of paper that are lying on the large mahogany writing desk in front of him. There are also four leather-bound books, an inkwell and another quill pen. At the extreme left of the desk stands a theodolite. (This, evidently, in commemoration of Dr. Smith’s association with David Rittenhouse in the memorable observation of the transit of Venus, on June 3, 1769, at Norristown, Pennsylvania.) In the background is a large reddish-brown curtain, looped up in the left half of the picture and giving a glimpse of a most charmingly painted landscape in silvery tones, a scene at the Falls of Schuylkill, where Dr. Smith had a house. Seeing this, writes Charles Henry Hart in the Century Magazine of October, 1908, “we cannot but regret that Stuart did not sometimes turn from his portrait work to the free delineation of open-air nature, and leave us American landscapes full of atmosphere and feeling that we see he knew how to do so well, and in which he would have been no mean rival to his famous English compeers, Wilson and Gainsborough.”

Dr. William Smith by Gilbert Stuart Philadelphia,1800


Mrs. Samuel Blodget (daughter of Dr. Smith)
Philadelphia c.1798 by Gilbert Stuart
collection Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

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