Monday, June 29, 2015

Did Gilbert Stuart paint the pastel of George Washington? & ATTENTION an upcoming GS exhibition!

A reader wrote me:
Beth I saw your 2011 posting regarding a possible G. Stuart and wanted to run my story by you.
We have had a pastel portrait of GW in our family for unknown generations. It is relatively rudimentary compared with Gilbert Stuarts works, has an odd nose, and, again, is in pastel.  It is unsigned, but has in block lettering "G C Stuart" and "1795" in the bottom corner as well as "George Washington" and "1795" to the right of the bust.  Some other, less defined writing and another 1795 is below on the right.
It is definitely old by the look of the canvas, and my mother has by marriage connections to John Janney.  She has authenticated Washington and Lee items in her estate.
That said, but I question if it is a G C Stuart as it is pastel, has G C Stuart on it, and shows a much younger GW than appeared in contemporary portraits of him around 1796.
Would like your thoughts, and have attached a photo.
Steve Be**si
What did I write back, yes or no?  and why?
Dear Steve,
Thankyou for your note! Again I would like to remind my readers, and you, that I am not an expert, meaning I am not a titled art historian.  For genuine authentication one should consult well-known experts in the field! That being said, let me give you my opinion on your very nice pastel. As you describe it yourself, the pastel is relatively "rudimentary".  It is "not signed" which is typical of Stuart's works, he said once that his signature was the entirety of the painting itself--He would never have placed his name in block letters on any of his works.
It is important to note that our master either did not finish a painting, or the portraits were finished masterpieces.  I have not heard or seen of any work that was not a masterpiece and an outstanding likeness of the sitter...even some of his unfinished paintings have the glimmers of his mastery.  Commonly he did not finish a painting if something the sitter did or said was irritating, or there was disagreement on the price, or the female was too accurately depicted (displeasing the female sitter who wanted and expected to see something beautiful.)
The Stuart portraits are so accurate that they almost look like a photograph--so any work that hints at only 2 dimensions, is not likely to be a Stuart.  Your pastel of GW is rather inaccurate; when considering the nose as you mentioned, the lips/mouth...GS definitely had a consistent way of drawing GW's mouth, which emphasized the protrusion of his lips due to his false teeth.  Comparing this to GS's GW portraits, one could not easily tell they are of the same person.
Your pastel MAY be from the correct time period, it is hard for me to say.  Frame experts can look at the frame, other experts can tell the approx age of the paint and canvas, etc.  It looks to be in the style of GS, so it could have originated in that period.
But I can say with certitude, that this work would not have been done by our master.  it is still lovely and it is always an honor to have an image of Washington, no matter whether it is a Gilbert Stuart or not!


Gilbert Stuart: From Boston to Brunswick
July 9, 2015 - January 3, 2016
Markell Gallery

This exhibition brings together a selection of oil paintings by Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828) from the Museum’s collection, including his famous portraits of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The preeminent portraitist of the early republic, Stuart created fashionable likenesses of the period’s most important political, military, and social figures. Each of works included in the exhibition was completed after Stuart’s move to Boston in 1805. Collectively, they provide insight into the artist’s relationship with other artists and collectors in the region, including members of the Bowdoin family.

My last word on this post, ALEXANDER HAMILTON, treasury secretary under Pres. George Washington, SHOULD NOT BE taken off the $10.00 bill.  Gimme a break. That is an outrage, and a lowering the bar of the education in this nation.  Everyone should know of, and about, Alexander Hamilton.

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