Saturday, March 4, 2017

Is Janet's portrait of Washington by GS? portraits of George Washington (and Meeker) &.... When Stuart was Really Interested in a male face...

See post previous to this, for backgound on Janet's portrait of President George Washington.
After leaving America to make a name for himself in London and Dublin (1775-1793), Stuart returned and for the rest of his life painted in New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, spending his last days in Boston. He left NY for Philadelphia with the express intent to paint George Washington in person.  Philadelphia, when he arrived in 1794, was the temporary capital of the US from 1790 to 1800.  Besides his by now well established reputation as a fine portrait painter, through familial contacts he was well placed to move among the elite economic and political circles.  A letter of introduction to the President from John Jay (first Chief Justice of the United States, a Founding Father) led to an invitation to visit.
Stuart painted only three portraits with live sittings, painting afterwards at least 100 replications of these works.  Most are based on the Athenaeum portrait, called The Athenaeum.  This unfinished work (which also includes wife Martha in a separate portrait) is one of Stuart's most celebrated portraits, although unfinished.
Stuart painted Washington in 1795 when the Pres. was 63.
Stuart asked permission to keep The Athenaeum to fulfill commissions for replicas (providing a steady income--and not requiring the President to sit for any commissioned portraits, which the President did not like to do.) The President saw the advantage for Stuart in keeping the original and thought it a great idea for the artist to keep it.
In the post just previous to this one, Janet asked about whether her portrait of George Washington might be a Gilbert Stuart.  So now you, the reader, knows that the majority of portraits of GW painted by Stuart were based on The Athenaeum.
Thus, an answer to this question would be to present portraits here, and let you decide. Some easy things to look for: The age of Janet's portrait seems to be within the realm of possibility, as does the background of reddish brown curtain sweeping over the shoulder.  The detail photo depicting the neckcloth appears to distort the chin somewhat, that should be discounted (ie a bad photo).  The costume is correct; but does the neckcloth itself show the bright swerving dashes of alternating dark and light characteristic to GS's treatment of the jabot ( ruffle on the front of the shirt.)?  A common GS detail is a light spray of white on the shoulder of the jacket (for his earlier male portraits when men wore their hair in this style) indicating some of the powder which has floated off the hair.  The proportionality of the facial features in Janet's portrait seems to be correct. All in all her portrait captures the likeness of Washington and is a fine portrait.  But.......IS the portrait by the MASTER?                                                              

                                     Below Samuel Meeker's portrait from the Philadelphia period
"But when he was really interested in a male face, he painted with that compound of insight, sympathy, and scientific detachment which is the ideal of modern biographers."  On Desperate Seas by James Thomas Flexner  ---A BIOGRAPHY of Gilbert Stuart
One might ask, was Stuart interested in the person of Samuel Meeker?  Can you see Meeker's personality? Does the portrait somehow reflect a calm personality, wisdom, kindness?  
How does the master acheive that?!                                         
     the unfinished Athenaeum, kept by the artist until his death to make additional GW portraits

The Gibbs-Channing-Avery Portrait at the MET

Janet's unsigned George Washington portrait.

  • Skin hues are not subtle and lack the renowned inner vibrancy, flesh tints and transition areas are rough without use of the creamy, subtle light dark shading, & masterful coloring 
  • the hair/jabot without characteristic dashes of brilliant structure, shoulders seem disproportionately thin, the portrait lacks the typical Stuart "photographic likeness", enabling the viewer to study the sitter's personality
  • lips/chin lack firm realism, as does the shadowing of the beard (see Meeker)   
  • As I wrote Janet, the portrait is decisively NOT a Stuart.   

Here is another example of a portrait that may or may have been done by Stuart.
With comments from the expert

for Stuart's pigments and paint application click here

"George Washington: The Wonder of the Age" by John Rhodehamel 
"This sympathetic, though not uncritical, account of the first president's journey from minor Tidewater gentry to mythic statesman is crisply written, admirably concise and never superficial.  As a brief acount of Washington's life, it is unlikely to be surpassed for many years." review by F. Bordewich


Billy Cline said...

Do you have a email I could contact.I have a GW portrait I think you would like to see. Possibly GS.

Billy Cline said...

Or just email me at

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