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759.1 S93f 55-0^513 

Flsxner *2.5 

Gilbert Stuart, a great life in 

brief. 



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GREAT LIVES IN 
A New Series of Biographies 



ACCURACY 
O 




3 

MULTUM 
IN PARVO 



HENRY FORD by Roger Burlingame 
MAHATMA GANDHI by Vincent Sheean 
ALEXANDRE DUMAS by Andre Maurois 
HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN by Rumer Qodden 
CHARLES DARWIN by Ruth Moore 
JULIUS CAESAR by Alfred Duggan 
JAMES J. HILL by Stewart Holbrook 
ELIZABETH I by Donald Ban Chidsey 
NAPOLEON III by Albert Querard 
GILBERT STUART by James Thomas Flemer 

These are BORZOI BOOKS 
Published by ALFRED A. KNOPF in New York 



GILBERT STUART 



Gilbert Stuart 



A GREAT LIFE IN BRIEF 



BY 



James Thomas Flexner 




New York ALFRED A. KNOPF 1955 



L. C. catalog card number: 55-6218 

JAMES THOMAS FLEXNER, 1$$$ 



THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK, 
PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC. 



Copyright 193$, 1955 by James Thomas Flexner. All rights re- 
served. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form 
without permission in writting from the publisher, except by a 
reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be 
printed in a magazine or newspaper. Published simultaneously 
in Canada by McClelland <$ Stewart Limited. Manufactured in 
the United States of America. 

FIRST EDITION 



TO WILLIAM SAWITZKY 

1879-1947 
Pioneer student of early American art 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER 

I A Wild Boy 3 

II A Primitive Painter 1 5 

III Battle for Uniqueness 30 

IV Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New 43 

V Personal Failures and Professional 

Triumphs 65 

VI Irish Varieties 88 

VII The Return of the Prodigal 100 

VIII Images of Washington izz 

IX Fame without Fortune 149 

X On Desperate Seas 175 

Bibliography 193 

Index follows page 197 



GILBERT STUART 



CHAPTER ONE 

A WILD BOY 

LIKE a true believer entering a shrine, John Neal tip- 
toed reverently into Gilbert Stuart's Boston studio. 
The more art is banished from the main current of 
national life by utilitarian pursuits, the more holy it 
seems to its votaries. In the roaring iSzo's when the 
energies of the nation were absorbed in the growing 
settlements beyond the mountains, Neal, who as- 
pired to be a painter, thought of Gilbert Stuart as a 
god. Was not Stuart recognized as the greatest artist 
in America? Had he not preserved the features of 
Washington for all future ages? Humbly Neal ad" 
vanced toward the end of his pilgrimage. 

He passed the threshold with eyes modestly down- 
cast, but when he looked up, the worship in his ex- 
pression gave way to surprise. He saw before him a 
furious-looking old man whose disheveled clothes 
were encrusted with snuff and one of whose feet was 
bound up because of gout. A huge mouth curved 
powerfully downward among the sagging muscles of 
his lower face; bloodshot eyes stared with unpleasant 
intensity from behind red lids. This terrifying coun- 
tenance was dominated by a tremendous nose whose 
purple-red veins proclaimed its owner a perpetual 
drinker. When Neal asked incredulously if this was 



6 GILBERT STUART 

less prudish than Neal, one of them asked him for a 
pinch, "I will give it to you/ 3 Stuart replied, "but I 
advise you not to take it. Snuff-taking is a pernicious, 
vile, dirty habit, and, like all bad habits, to be care- 
fully avoided/ 3 x 

"Your practice/' the young painter remembers he 
replied, "contradicts your precept, Mr. Stuart/' 

"Sir, I can't help it. Shall I tell you a story? You 
were neither of you ever in England, so I must de" 
scribe an English stagecoach of my time. It was a 
large vehicle of the coach kind, with a railing around 
the top to secure outside passengers, and a basket be" 
hind for baggage and such travelers as could not be 
elsewhere accommodated. In such a carriage, full 
within, loaded on the top, and an additional unfortu* 
nate stowed with the stuff in the basket, I happened 
to be traveling in a dark night, when coachee con- 
trived to overturn us all or, as they say in New 
York, dump us in a ditch. We scrambled up, felt 
our legs and arms to be convinced that they were not 
broken, and finding on examination that inside and 
outside passengers were tolerably whole (on the 
whole), someone thought of the poor devil who was 
shut with the baggage in the basket. He was found 
apparently senseless, and his neck twisted awry. One 
of the passengers, who had heard that any dislocation 

1 The spelling and punctuation in all quotations have been 
modernized. 



A WILD BOY 7 

might be remedied if promptly attended to, seized on 
the corpse with a determination to untwist the man's 
neck and set his head straight on his shoulders. Ao 
cordingly, with an iron grasp he clutched him by the 
head, and began pulling and twisting by main force. 
He appeared to have succeeded miraculously in re* 
storing life, for the dead man no sooner experienced 
the first wrench than he roared vociferously: "Let me 
alone! Let me alone! I'm not hurt; I was born so!' 
Gentlemen/" added Stuart, "I was born so/' He took 
an enormous pinch of snuff, **I was born in a snuff 
mill/' 

The painter's father, also named Gilbert Stuart, 
was a Scotch snuff "grinder who in his early thirties had 
emigrated from Perth to Rhode Island. Although his 
descendants made up, to enhance their social position, 
romantic tales about his forebears, he came from too 
humble a stock to have any recorded genealogy. His 
family never figured in the life of his son, even when 
the painter was as a youth marooned in Scotland and 
much in need of help. 

The elder Stuart must have reached America in 
1750 or earlier, since on May 21, 1751 he was mar* 
ried to a Newport girl, Elizabeth Anthony. Her 
great-grandfather, John Anthony, of Hampstead, 
England, had in 1634 come to Rhode Island, where 
he continued his old profession of innkeeper, be- 
came prosperous, and inaugurated a line of farmers 



8 GILBERT STUART 

which slowly descended in worldly importance. Eliza" 
beth's father was not well-off, not poor, not impor- 
tant, not insignificant one of those individuals who 
form the backbone of long-settled rural communities. 
He married Susan Hefferman, sired seven children, 
and died at the age of fifty-two, when Elizabeth was 
eighteen, leaving behind no considerable estate. The 
girl, who grew into "a very handsome woman/ 3 was 
twenty-three when she married her thirty-five-year-old 
snuff-grinder. 

According to Newport gossip, her husband's pres- 
ence in America was indirectly due to the failure of 
Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebellion in Scotland. Dr. 
Thomas Moffatt, a learned Boerhavian physician, was 
forced to flee to Rhode Island. When he found that 
his aristocratic manners so annoyed the Quakers there 
that they would not have him in their houses, he de- 
cided that his graces were more important to him than 
his profession; he gave up medicine, and cast around 
for another means of livelihood. Noticing that the 
snuff he bought was imported from Scotland, he deter- 
mined to set up a snuff mill, and finding no one in 
America capable of building one, imported the elder 
Gilbert Stuart. 

There was a considerable delay after the artisan's 
arrival, in establishing the mill. It was November 5, 
1751 when Stuart, who described himself as "mill- 
wright/' entered into a partnership with Moffatt, 



A WILD BOY 9 

"physician/ 3 and Edward Cole, "gentleman/' to erect 
on a tidal river near Narragansett an "engine for the 
manufacture of snufl/* the first, it is said, in New Eng- 
land. 

After the structure was completed, the Stuarts lived 
in the upper stories. In April 1752 a son, James, was 
born; he soon died. The following year, Ann came, 
and then, on December 3, 1755, Gilbert Jr. The 
future painter remained the only boy and the youngest 
child. 

Decades later, Stuart amused himself by telling 
people he met in England that he first saw the light 
"six miles from Pottawoone and ten miles from Pappa" 
squash and about four miles from Conanicut and not 
far from the spot where the famous battle with the 
warlike Pequots was fought/' When asked what prov- 
ince of India he came from, he was enchanted. 

Since the mill was built on a sharp slope, the infant 
painter saw from his uppepstory bedroom the pond 
rippling and glowing, almost level with his eyes. 
Then, just by the window, turbulence took over. The 
water cascaded with a shout down the side of the dam, 
striking the blades of the wheel, which, as it revolved, 
set up a great groaning of machinery that rocked the 
floor on which he stood. In this world of sound and 
movement the little boy soon established himself as 
his own master. His elder sister doted on him, as did 
his easygoing and impractical parents. 



io GILBERT STUART 

Stuart's father was so absent-minded that once, 
when he and his wife were riding to church on the 
same horse, he dropped the lady off without noticing. 
And she was so good-humored that she was not angry 
as she sat on the road where she had landed, but rather 
smiled to think how surprised her husband would be 
when he found her gone. She watched the millwright 
jog gaily round a bend, there was the silence of heat 
and birds singing, and then suddenly the clatter of 
hoofs. Stuart appeared at a gallop, leaning eagerly over 
his horse's neck, "God's-mylife!" he cried. "Are you 
hurt?" 

The usual stories are told of Gilbert's precocity. 
When he was five, his daughter relates, he drew on 
the earth with a stick a perfect likeness of a neighbor. 
Family tradition also records a holiday excursion to a 
hanging as an example of his early powers of observa- 
tion. The shy hangman, who had hidden his identity 
with a sheet draped from head to ankle, mystified 
everyone but the babe on Mr. Stuart's shoulder; Gil- 
bert reported who it was. "I know him," the innocent 
lisped, "by his sues." 

Mrs. Stuart decided that so brilliant an infant must 
be taught Latin before he was well out of swaddling- 
clothes. Since no one in the neighborhood knew any 
Latin, she sent to Newport for a primer and, though 
she had never seen a word of the strange language, 



A WILD BOY n 

essayed to teach little Gilbert herself. Of course he 
did not learn very much. 

Gilbert's father, we are told, "was remarkable for 
his ingenuity and his quiet, inoffensive life"; he lacked 
the gift for making money. When Colonial industry 
proved unable to supply any bottles into which his 
snuff could be packed, he was in despair, until Moffatt 
suggested the substitution of beeves* bladders. Then 
gaiety returned to the clanking mill, but not for long; 
the bladders were not immediately popular. Heart" 
broken, Stuart sold his share in the mill when Gilbert 
was six, and settled in Newport on a scrap of property 
his wife had inherited. Moffat then proceeded to make 
money from the mill. Thus it always was with the 
well'meaning mechanic. According to his grand" 
daughter, he later invented a machine for loading 
ships which made someone else rich and did him no 
good whatsoever. 

Gilbert was to describe his family's Newport house 
as "a hovel on Bannister's wharf." Like his artistic 
predecessor John Singleton Copley, Stuart spent his 
boyhood in a tobacco shop on the seafront of a mari- 
time city; but while Copley had trembled behind 
windowpanes, Stuart was forever out on the streets 
leading a gang of urchins in outrageous pranks. 

He attended an Episcopalian charity school which 
had been founded in 1742 as part of Trinity Church 



12 GILBERT STUART 

by Bishop Berkeley "to teach ten poor boys their 
grammar and mathematics gratis/ 5 The master had to 
be ordained, and thus the Reverend George Bisset 
was in charge, but the actual instruction was given by 
John Ernest Knotchell, "a German gentleman, 
learned and severe/* who lived in the schoolyard. 
KnotchelFs grammar, his mathematics, his learning 
and severity repelled Stuart, but he had a skill which 
the boy found fascinating: he was the church organist* 
The teacher found he could keep his wildest pupil 
quiet by seating him at the fine instrument which 
Bishop Berkeley had donated to the congregation. 
When Stuart revisited Newport as an old man, the 
only landmark of his childhood that brought him con- 
tentment was the organ-loft. 

School served Stuart principally as a reservoir of 
companions he could lead astray. Books were forgot- 
ten while he frolicked with Arthur Browne, later a 
famous English attorney, and Benjamin Waterhouse, 
who was to introduce vaccination into the United 
States. The three bright youngsters prowled on the 
docks, practicing oaths and trying to spit like veterans. 
Or, curled up on bulkheads over the bright water, 
they would sail in their imaginations to that almost im- 
possible homeland which thek parents described to 
them. They were all, Waterhouse tells us, "inspired 
with the same ardent desire to visit Europe/ 5 

Stuart used to amuse his friends during his later 



A WILD EOT 13 

years by saying that he and another boy named Chan- 
ning had sworn revenge on a shoemaker who had got 
them into trouble. They sneaked up to his open win" 
dow on a dark night, and one boy fired a gun while 
the other squirted blood they had stolen from a butcher 
onto the cobbler's bald head. The shoemaker rolled 
over among his lasts and lapstones, crying that he was 
murdered. Hiding in the long grass, swallowing down 
their mirth, the urchins watched his wife run in and 
scream for help; they saw the doctor, who had arrived 
with his coattails flying, approach the corpse gravely, 
wash off the blood, and then stare in amazement. 
They were so entranced that they did not set ofi for 
their homes in time to make a clean getaway; the mi" 
raculously revived cadaver rushed out to complain, 
and as the boys were found in bed with their shoes on, 
they were adjudged guilty and roundly beaten with a 
birch. Stuart loved to say that he had called on their 
victim years later and reminded him of the incident. 
The shoemaker shook his head. "If you're as good a 
man as you were a bad boy, you*re a devilish clever 
fellow/ 3 

Waterhouse remembered that Gilbert was <c a very 
capable, self-willed boy who, perhaps on that account, 
was indulged in everything, being an only son, hand- 
some and forward and habituated at home to have his 
own way in everything, with little or no control from 
the easy, good-natured father/* Rebellion was in 



14 GILBERT STUART 

the Stuart heritage. Although there appears to be no 
foundation for the story that Gilbert's father fought at 
Culloden, his sympathies were undoubtedly with 
Prince Charlie, and most of his American friends were 
Scottish exiles. He seems to have become a more vio* 
lent rebel after he had been in Rhode Island for several 
years; he changed the spelling of his family name from 
"Stewart" to "Stuart/ 9 and added to his son's name, 
some time after his baptism, the middle name of 
"Charles/' which the lad bore proudly for a while be- 
fore he discarded it entirely. Certainly the talk around 
the dinner table did not teach slavish obedience to 
constituted authority. 



@ 15 

CHAPTER TWO 

A PRIMITIVE PAINTER 

THE FUTURE artist was stricken with an illness which 
so affected his eyesight that it was feared he would go 
blind. When Dr. William Hunter, the leading physi- 
cian of the Scotch community, was called in, the spe- 
cial tragedy of the situation was clear to him, for the 
boy who was now lying in a darkened room had cov- 
ered the walls of his family's little house with draw- 
ings. Lacking paints and a brush, he had used a rotting 
stone or a lump of clay, and yet there was vitality in 
the designs that made Hunter study them with admira- 
tion. The doctor, who owned paintings which he 
fondly hoped were "originals and uniques" by Salvator 
Rosa, considered himself a connoisseur; he resolved to 
help the boy become an artist that is, if his eyesight 
could be restored. Stuart recovered and, as soon as he 
did, Hunter gave him brushes and colors, commis- 
sioned him to paint two spaniels lying under a table. 
Hunter's presumed Rosas were far from being the 
only sources of art in Newport. Religious toleration 
had joined with a capacious harbor to make the city a 
great trading-center; more than three thousand seamen 
were employed in locally owned ships that crowded 
wharves stretching for a mile along the waterfront. 
The merchants were wealthy one boasted that, to 



1 6 GILBERT STUART 

avoid ostentation, he had cut his staff to seventy serv- 
ants and they imported from Europe in their own 
boats luxuries suited to their class : paintings as well as 
furniture and fine wines. Isaac Hart, a pillar of the 
Jewish community, was convinced that his bust por- 
trait of Tsar Peter I was by the famous London society 
painter Sir Godfrey Kneller. Another merchant, John 
Bannister, owned, among many portraits of famous 
Europeans, a presumptive self-portrait by Van Dyck; 
also a picture, locally considered beautiful, of "Cleo- 
patra dying in an oval frame/' The Scotch exiles par- 
ticularly admired the collection of the elder Stuart's 
former partner, Dr. Moffatt, which featured a heroic 
painting of Bonnie Prince Charlie and, for contrast, a 
depiction of the King's brother, the Duke of Cumber" 
land, as "a butcher with a cleaver in his hand." 

Newport society was extremely aristocratic in tone, 
and the Stuarts were not among those who, in the 
words of the rector of Trinity Church, "moved in 
higher spheres"; yet the Colonials everywhere were 
eager to encourage artists, and as soon as Dr. Hunter 
made the boy's ambitions known, the prodigy was un- 
doubtedly admitted, even if only by a servant, to the 
mansions where the imported pictures hung. How- 
ever, he seems to have been less moved by the Euro- 
pean images that had little reference to his own crude 
sketches and to the world he knew than by the ex- 
ample of a man in his own sphere, the instrument- 



A PRIMITIVE PAINTER 17 

maker's son Samuel King, who practiced house- and 
portrait-painting as a sideline to his father's trade. Like- 
nesses created by King some years later reveal that he 
was completely uninspired, yet he worked in the 
crabbed, linear style Stuart was to practice when he 
himself became a professional portraitist. 

The training Stuart gave himself was at first com- 
pletely conventional for an American beginner: he 
copied engravings and drew faces in black lead. Then, 
when he was thirteen or fourteen, a meteor, albeit a 
very small one, flashed into the artistic skies of New- 
port. 

Cosmo Alexander was an elegant Scot who had 
fought for the Pretender, but he was not an exile: it 
was rumored that he was a spy sent by the British to 
keep an eye on the obstreperous Colonials. For his 
part, he declared he was traveling for his health and to 
recover some lost lands belonging to his family. He 
admitted in the parlors of the Scotch colony that he 
was an expert painter, that he had studied in Italy and 
was a member of the Society of Artists in London, but 
added that he was too much of a gentleman to make 
painting a profession: he merely sketched for his 
amusement. He waited until he had been adequately 
persuaded before he set up a studio, well supplied, as 
Waterhouse remembered, with "cameras and optical 
glasses for taking perspective views." These were de- 
vices for throwing miniature images into a darkened 



1 8 GILBERT STUART 

box where they could be traced by hand with little 
trouble: modern cameras in everything except the 
presence of light-sensitive film. 

"Dr. Hunter/' the physician's son was to boast, 
"placed Stuart under the tuition of his friend Alex- 
ander." This meant, according to Waterhouse, that 
the boy was given instruction "in the grammar of art/' 
in "drawing and the groundwork of the palette." Soon 
Alexander was so impressed that he took Stuart into 
his studio. 

Late in 1770 or early in 1771 the lad accompa- 
nied his master on a painting tour through the South, 
and then destiny presented him with the ultimate fa- 
vor, a trip to the almost fabulous world across the ocean 
whence art came. Alexander took him to Scotland. 
For a while Stuart prospered, following in the wake of 
his elegant master, who may even have sent him to 
school for short periods of time. But on August 25, 
1 772 Alexander died at Edinburgh. As he felt him" 
self failing, he begged a friend to take care of Stuart. 

According to Waterhouse, this friend was Sir 
George Chambers, an individual otherwise unidenti- 
fied. Stuart's modern biographer, William T. Whit" 
ley, points out that Alexander had a brother-in-law 
named Sir George Chalmers. Chalmers had been a 
pupil of Allan Ramsay, but was an extremely feeble 
painter; he claimed to be a baronet, but his estate had 
been forfeited by a Jacobin ancestor. Waterhouse 



A PRIMITIVE PAINTER 19 

states that Chambers died almost at once. Whitley 
points out that, although Chalmers lived until 1791, 
he was too poor to be of much assistance to anyone. 

Whether Chambers or Chalmers, Stuart's new 
guardian did not help him for long. The sixteen-year- 
old boy was abandoned in Edinburgh with no means 
of livelihood except his very inexpert brush. He 
signed himself "Charles Stuart/' appealing to Scottish 
patriotism, and does seem to have obtained a commis- 
sion or two, but probably was paid very little. The gay 
youngster who had been the darling of his family, the 
prodigy whom the Scottish colony of Newport had 
admired and caressed, now walked the streets of a 
strange and hostile city, his pockets and his belly 
empty, his feet sore. Rarely during the hours and 
hours of autobiographical conversation with which he 
filled his later years did he refer to those months of 
abject misery, and his daughter tried to gloss them 
over by saying that he spent two years at the Univer- 
sity of Glasgow, long enough to acquire "a classical 
taste/' But the records of that institution are innocent 
of his name. 

Hungry, footsore days massed into months, and 
still there seemed no way out for the lonely boy: no 
money to go home with, nothing to eat if he stayed. 
Finally he seized a desperate expedient; he enlisted 
before the mast on a collier bound for Nova Scotia. 
The sea was a brutal mistress in those days. Men were 



2O GILBERT STUART 

beaten and starved and worked to the limit of endup 
ance. We can see the young painter clinging to a 
yardarm over the black sea, weeks of terrible sailing 
behind him, weeks more ahead, his thoughts tumbling 
sickishly to the unremitting beat of waves and to the 
curses of the boatswain coming up from below. 

When Stuart reached Newport at last, he could 
not make himself describe his trip home even to his 
best friend. "What his treatment was I never could 
learn/' writes Waterhouse. "I only know that it re- 
quired a few weeks to equip him with suitable cloth- 
ing to appear on the streets, or to allow any one of his 
former friends, save the writer, to know of his return 
home. Suffice it to say that it was such as neither Gil- 
bert Stuart, father or son, ever thought proper to men- 
y> 
tion. 

Stuart's family, for so long completely obscure, 
was now in a position to help his worldly rise. His 
mother's much younger brother, Joseph Anthony, had 
gone to sea and risen to the rank of captain. Then he 
became a favorite of Aaron Lopez, the Portuguese Jew 
who had amassed a fortune in Newport as the pioneer 
manufacturer and distributor of spermaceti candles, a 
luxury made from whale oil. Anthony had bought 
boats of his own, and, although he kept his close con- 
nection with Lopez, had moved his base of operations 
to Philadelphia, where he allied himself with the great 
mercantile firm of Stocker and Wharton. 



A PRIMITIVE PAINTER zi 

When visiting Newport, Anthony was amazed to 
see hanging on the Stuarts 5 wall a likeness of his 
mother, who had never been painted in her lifetime. 
Told that young Gilbert, just back from Scotland, 
had painted it from memory, he commissioned pic- 
tures of himself, his wife, and his two children; he 
showed them to his business connections. Lopez OP 
dered his own likeness and a double portrait of his 
wife and child; Lopez's brother-in-law and partner 
Jacob Rodriquez Ribera followed suit, and soon 
it became fashionable to patronize Stuart. Next to 
his presumed Van Dyck, John Bannister hung 
portraits of a more personal nature by the local 
prodigy. 

"Our aspiring artist/ 3 writes Waterhouse, "had as 
much business as he could turn his hands to, and the 
buoyancy of his spirits kept pace with his good for- 
tune." The horrible days in Scotland seemed forgot- 
ten while the gay young man dashed off portraits, 
flirted with the ladies, taught himself to play various 
musical instruments, and tried his hand at composing. 
"Once," his friend continues, "he attempted to en- 
rapture me by a newly studied classical composition. I 
exerted all the kind attention I could muster up for the 
occasion, until his sharp eye detected by my physiog- 
nomy that I did not much relish it. He colored, 
sprang up in a rage, and striding back and forth the 
floor, vociferated: 'You have no more taste for music 



22 GILBERT STUART 

than a jackass! And it is all owing to your stupid 
Quaker education !" * 

Deciding that he had the gift of prophecy, Stuart 
secretly recorded his forecasts in what he called a 
"Book of Judges/ 3 and waited for them to come true. 
When they failed to do so, he admitted to Water- 
house that high in the list of his predictions was Water" 
house's own death at an early age. 

The brash young man did not hesitate to use the 
painting style he had learned from Alexander, the art 
he had seen in Scotland, as no more than a springboard 
for his own provincial visions. Alexander had been a 
graceful workman, if a weak one. He had sought nat- 
ural poses: a lady fingering a piano; a gentleman open- 
ing a pouch. His was a sugary sort of realism; people 
were shown as they might have been in life, except 
that they were more elegant and prettier. Although 
his figures had no existence in space and were visual- 
ized with no vitality of imagination, the technique was 
smooth enough to hide their emptiness from a casual 
viewer. And the colors were not lacking in charm. 

Stuart sensed that such work was trivial; it glossed 
over the truth that his own eyes saw. Yet he was not 
sure where the artificiality lay, where to dig for verity. 
He followed his instincts, and it is amazing how often 
the experiments he tried in his early pictures presaged 
the conclusions of his prime. 

Typical of his Newport work was his portrait of 



A PRIMITIVE PAINTER 23 

Mrs. Lopez with her small son Joshua beside her. As 
he was to do all through his career, Stuart planned his 
colors to emphasize the flesh tones, which in this case 
had an olive glow. He caught the tint exactly and 
keyed it into a color scheme based on the contrast be" 
tween coal'black hair and a symphony of blues: a 
dark'blue dress with lighter-blue highlights; a blue" 
gray background shading behind the heads to a more 
creamy azure, and suddenly enlivened with bright" 
blue touches in a lace cap. 

Very conspicuous was the contrast between the 
painting of the heads and that of the bodies. Even 
then, at the opening of his career, Stuart revealed his 
lifelong fascination with faces and indifference to fig* 
ures and costumes. He showed Mrs. Lopez's torso as 
shrunken and completely flat, but tried desperately to 
understand the shape of the head, to express weight 
and three-dimensional form. His European training 
was indicated by the way he kept the features in a 
bright light and gathered the shadows together into a 
few masses, but he applied this knowing technique 
with such innocent violence that the shadows over* 
modeled, giving the heads the strangely astringent 
quality, as if the skin were shrinking on the flesh, that 
was typical of Stuart's Newport pictures. 

Despite his emphasis on faces, he was not success* 
ful in achieving likenesses. As Alexander had done, he 
tended to make heads square and pudgy; he drew 



24 GILBERT STUART 

eyebrows and eyes and mouths in a manner somewhat 
similar to his master's; yet he had broken so com- 
pletely with the Scot's approach that such borrowed 
forms had lost their illusionistic naturalism. Like a 
broad-jumper who returns to the starting-line before 
beginning his second leap, Stuart has receded to the 
approach of self-taught primitives. Mrs. Lopez's face 
has been metamorphosed into a design grounded in 
the repetition of shapes. Her oval mass of hair com- 
plements the oval shape of her face, while the top of 
her coiffure, her hairline, her eyebrows, and the lids of 
her eyes all repeat a single arc. The less sharp curve in 
the bottom of her eyes is echoed by her little smile. 
We are charmed by the result, but as much may not 
be said about the face of the infant. In young manhood 
as in old age, Stuart was inept at painting small chil- 
dren. 

Mrs. Lopez and her son, Joshua is full of solecisms 
and inconsistencies, yet it is made by design and color 
into a charming picture. Conviction is manifest in 
every brushstroke. Refusing to accept the easy formu- 
las of his master, Stuart has set out like David, with his 
pebble clutched in his slingshot, to topple the most 
gigantic problems of art. 

Stuarts interest in giving a true description of the 
world as he saw it had made him immune to the 
fancier elements of the portraits he had encountered 
abroad. According to British custom, sitters should be 



A PRIMITIVE PAINTER 25 

placed in elegant surroundings which, by their very 
artificiality, showed that the subject was not an inhabit' 
ant of the ordinary world, but more rich, more noble, 
a being apart. When his Newport neighbors de<* 
manded that he execute a picture in this style, Stuart 
refused. Waterhouse tells us: "A committee of the 
Redwood Library, of Newport, waited upon him to 
engage him to paint a fulWength of its generous 
founder, Abraham Redwood, then living next door 
to the painter, for which the young artist would have 
had a generous reward, but [despite] all that his par" 
ents and the rest of his friends could say, he declined it 
in sullen silence, and by so doing turned the popular 
tide in some degrees against him. . . . This OCCUP 
rence cooled the zeal of many of his friends/ 3 

Stuart tried to keep his likenesses small and simple, 
Cosmo Alexander had painted Sir Alexander Grant 
an aristocratic Scotchman on a visit to the family of his 
Newport daughter"in4aw standing at three-quarter 
length, a letter pouch in his hand. Two thirds of the 
background depicted paneling, broken into vertical 
segments, and serving to stop the space behind the 
figure. The other third opened up into a view of a 
marble balustrade beyond which extended a noble 
landscape. For his John Bannister, Stuart employed a 
similar composition, but removed the elegant details. 
He cut the figure off at the waist, amputating hips and 
legs and also the business of the hand with the pouch; 



26 GILBERT STTJART 

he carried the paneling across the entire picture, ex- 
punging the porch and the view. Nothing remains but 
the essential elements of the likeness itself. 

Only once in his surviving Newport pictures did 
Stuart follow international tradition by adding a noble 
but irrelevant detail. He included in his portrait of a 
storekeeper's son, Robert Stoddard, Jr., a fluted col- 
umn in the classical taste, but he crowded it over into 
a corner, and instead of painting the marble a con-* 
spicuous white, he gave it a greenish hue that blended 
in with the other colors. You have to look twice to 
make sure the shard of antiquity is really there. 

The accessories Stuart wished to put in his pictures 
were the commonplace objects of every day. When 
he painted Francis and Saunders Malbone, the sons 
of another merchant, he tried to show them exactly as 
they appeared when engaged in their studies. The pie- 
crust table between them is a portrait, and a most OP 
dinary inkstand is rendered with the passionate fidelity 
of a minor Dutch artist. 

This picture, the most elaborate of Stuart's early 
works, reveals superlative promise. It does not seem to 
be a flat canvas cunningly marked to give a pretense 
of depth, but rather an actual cube of space. The eye 
is able to travel around the backs of the heads, to feel 
shapes and distances. Any art student could point out 
a dozen conventional mistakes of drawing, perspec- 
tive, and design; but this picture might well make a 



A PRIMITIVE PAINTER 27 

student realize the limitations of formulas. Reality is 
not drawn here but communicated; we see, even if 
only dimly, the truth more powerful than truth Itself. 

Stuart studied anatomy by paying <c a strong-muscle 
blacksmith" fifty cents an evening to pose. Convinced 
that his solitary war with the problems of art was go- 
ing well, he felt no need for outside instruction or in- 
spiration. Although boats plied perpetually from 
Newport to Boston, he made no effort to visit John 
Singleton Copley, America's leading painter, who 
was creating great portraits in an extension of the 
primitive realistic style Stuart practiced. 

At Philadelphia, Charles Willson Peale, recently 
returned from studying painting in London, was ap- 
plying new sophistication to the lyrical manner he 
had developed in the Colonial South. Peale recalled 
that in the 1770*8 he was approached it was prob- 
ably by Joseph Anthony to accept as a pupil a 
young man whom he later inferred must have been 
Stuart. The mature artist was willing; the beginner 
was not. 

Stuart's portrait of Waterhouse, painted in January 
1775, shows a great development in his style, par- 
ticularly in the achievement of likeness. The young 
experimenter had half escaped from the primitive limi- 
tations that had forced him to show faces as designs. 
Although the astringent quality is still there in the 
shaping of the head, the features are naturalistic. We 



28 GILBERT STUART 

should recognize Waterhouse it we met him on the 
street. 

How much further Stuart, if left alone, would have 
carried his self-evolved style it is impossible to know, 
for the revolutionary agitation intervened. Incidents 
were multiplying; clearly there would soon be war. 
Like most Episcopalians a Tory, the painter's father 
determined to flee to some lands in Nova Scotia which 
he had bought at the time he gave up his partnership 
with Moffatt. His wife and daughter would stay be- 
hind until the millwright had tried the experiment of 
farming in a wild and distant province which he had 
never seen. But what of his son, now twenty years 
old? The social confusion was putting an end to all 
business for painters. 

Years later, Stuart stated that he had disagreed with 
his father's politics, that he had wanted to enlist in the 
patriot army and fight the British. His horrified elder 
urged him to sail instead to London. Waterhouse had 
already gone there to study medicine, leaving Stuart 
no companion with whom to dispute about painting 
and music; Joseph Anthony and some of his wealthy 
patrons were willing to lend him passage money; he 
could not refuse this opportunity to seek a larger arena 
in which to practice his art. 

Once he had made up his mind, he felt gay. He 
spent his last night in Newport playing the flute under 
the window of a young lady and mocking the night- 



A PRIMITIVE PAINTER 29 

capped burghers who shouted for quiet from the 
neighboring windows. Then he went to British-held 
Boston to wait for his boat. During his short stay 
there, he gave instruction to a young boy who was 
himself to have a brilliant career in England as a 
painter. Mather Brown wrote to his aunts in 1817 
that Stuart "was the first person who learnt me to draw 
at about twelve years of age at Boston. He lived then 
near Mr. Whiting's, a print-seller near Mill Bridge/' 
In a year or so Brown was to run away from his grand- 
father and wander with a knapsack on his back 
through the countryside in a successful effort to make 
enough money as an itinerant painter of miniatures to 
follow his instructor to London. 

During June or July 1775, at about the time of the 
Battle of Bunker Hill Stuart left behind him his em- 
battled homeland. He had set out for the British Isles 
before, in the company of a distinguished and power- 
ful patron, but the result had been tragedy. Now he 
was alone, with only enough money in his pocket to 
keep him a few weeks in the British capital. He had 
but one letter of introduction, to Alexander Grant, the 
Scotch aristocrat with Newport connections whom 
Cosmo Alexander had painted. He relied principally 
on the chance that Waterhouse, from whom he had 
received no word, would be in London. 



w 3 @ 

CHAPTER THREE 

BATTLE FOR UNIQUENESS 

WHEN Stuart reached London about November 
1775, he hurried at once to the most recent address 
he had for Waterhouse. His friend, he was told, was 
attending medical school in Edinburgh. He stood 
dazed in the hallway before he returned to the street; 
his prospects had sunk to almost nothing. He took a 
tiny, airless room in the house of a tailor probably 
John Palmer in York Buildings, Buckingham 
Street, Strand, and ate as little as he could. Yet the few 
shillings in his pocket decreased daily. 

Again he walked the pavements of a strange city 
with the gait that he remembered, the aimless shuf" 
fling of the dispossessed who have no place to go and 
no reason to walk except that they cannot always 
stand still He spent a few pence on postage to Edin- 
burgh and wrote Waterhouse a brokenhearted letter. 
"Your father/' he remembered wistfully, "was at our 
house just before I left home, when he said Gilbert 
and Ben are so knit together like David and Jonathan, 
that if you heard from one, you would also hear from 
the other/' A sentence in a later letter epitomizes Stu* 
art's lonely state: "I don't know the day of the month 
or even what month, and I have no one to ask at pres" 
ent, but the day of the week is Tuesday, I believe/' 



BATTLE FOR UNIQUENESS 31 

Finally there was no more money to pay the land- 
lord or the baker; Stuart spent almost all his time on 
the streets now, afraid to return to his lodgings for fear 
he would be dispossessed. His daughter tells us that 
years later, when he was famous, "if any young man 
apparently not in very good circumstances came to 
him for instruction, it never failed to depress Stuajt 
greatly, as his own early struggles were thus recalled/ 5 
Shuffling down Foster Lane one melancholy day, 
Stuart heard the notes of an organ radiating from a 
church, and his heart- quickened a little. His footsteps 
had a sudden purposeful ring as he hurried toward 
the door, but when he was about to enter, he remem- 
bered the pew woman; she would want her fee. He 
stood listening on the church steps like a hungry waif 
sniffling the odors outside the door of a pastry shop. 
Respectable people walked by him into the house of 
worship. The ragged young man, who had been so 
bold a few months before, watched them in an agony 
of hesitation for a long time before he dared ask what 
was going on within. He was told that the vestry 
was holding a competition for the position of or- 
ganist. 

Stuart trembled with excitement; he could play the 
organ, and in America he had been thought to play it 
well. If only he could get the position, it would mean 
meat and wine and other half-forgotten things. But 
when he looked at his rags, he realized that no vestry 



32 GILBERT STUART 

would ever give him a chance. He stood on the steps 
disconsolate, and the music cheered him no longer. 

Then, with a sudden resolution, he hurried into 
the church, his head held high : a quick maneuver en- 
abled him to avoid the pew woman and find a seat 
near the judges. One after another the spotless and 
somberly dressed contestants walked up to the organ, 
and as their notes echoed through the vault Stuart's 
spirits rose, for he knew he could do better. Studying 
the vestrymen with the knowledge of physiognomy 
that was later to make him famous, he selected the one 
with the most tolerant face and asked if a stranger 
might try his skill. Smiling at the ragged apparition, 
the man agreed. Thus Stuart found his way to the or- 
gan, and his fingers moved on the keys with all the 
-eloquence of hunger and despair. He got the job and 
a salary of thirty pounds a year. 

When Waterhouse returned to London the follow- 
ing summer, he found Stuart still lodging at the tail- 
or's, still poor, and still struggling to get started as a 
painter. He had one canvas on his easel, a family group 
for Alexander Grant, the gentleman to whom he had 
a letter of introduction. Grant, Waterhouse tells us, 
"had paid him for it in advance. It remained long in 
his lodgings, and I am not sure that it ever was fin- 
ished." 

Waterhouse was horrified to discover that Stuart 
had sent no word to his family since they had parted 



BATTLE FOR UNIQUENESS 33 

in Newport more than a year before. All his life the 
painter suffered from a major block against writing let- 
ters; he was, Waterhouse remembered, "strongly at" 
tached to his parents"; his silence did not mean that 
he was callous to their plight caught at home in the 
jaws of civil war. 

During the summer of 1775, Gilbert Stuart, Sr., 
had sailed to Nova Scotia, but by the time he had 
cleared a few acres of farmland and raised a roof to go 
over his wife's and daughter's heads, the wife and 
daughter were trapped in Newport by a law forbid- 
ding the emigration of Tories. Mrs. Stuart petitioned 
the General Assembly of Rhode Island for a special 
act that would enable them to leave. The act was 
passed in February 1776, but permitted them to take 
only "the wearing apparel and household furniture of 
the family, and necessary provisions for the voyage/ 5 
Whatever assets the Stuarts had gathered in Newport 
were no more. 

Since Joseph Anthony had fled from his counting- 
house to the safer retirement of a Pennsylvania farm, 
Stuart could expect no backing from home but 
Waterhouse was the happy possessor of prosperous 
English relations. What better fortune could there be 
for a medical student than to have for an uncle the 
rich practitioner and famous Quaker philanthropist 
Dr. John Fothergill? When Fothergill arranged for 
him to "walk" St. Thomas's and Guy's hospitals, Wa<- 



34 GILBERT STUART 

terhouse took convenient lodgings, and, so that Stuart 
would not be living across the city, persuaded two of 
Fothergill's nieces to put his friend up alternately in 
their houses on Gracechurch Street: Mrs. James Free- 
man received him at Number 39, Mrs. John Chorley 
at Number 30. Both married to dry-goods merchants 
of eminent respectability, they possessed the typical 
Quaker distrust of art, yet Stuart now had safe roofs 
over his head and clean linen in which to face the 
world. 

Fothergill, who had graduated from his prejudices 
to be somewhat of a connoisseur, offered Stuart ten 
guineas for a portrait of Waterhouse. Here was a sub" 
ject Stuart had painted successfully in the Colonies; 
hanging in a parlor so many leading Londoners vis* 
ited, his new canvas would undoubtedly start him on 
the road to fame. He dashed off a likeness in his best 
Newport style and carried it triumphantly to his pa- 
tron. That Fothergill indulged in no raptures was dis* 
appointing, but could be explained away as British or 
Quaker reserve. When Stuart called again to see how 
the picture had been hung, it was nowhere in view, 
nor could Stuart discover that it ever graced even a 
bedroom wall. According to Waterhouse, Fothergilfs 
commission had been "a tactful way of giving him ten 
guineas/' 

Having come to London not as a student seeking 
knowledge but as a professional seeking conquest, 



BATTLE FOR UNIQUENESS 35 

Stuart had attended no art schools, sat at the feet of 
no master. Thus, he behaved in an opposite manner 
from John Singleton Copley, who had also been dis- 
lodged by the Revolution. Although Copley had car- 
ried the American vernacular tradition to its higtfest 
flowering, although he had sent from Boston to Lon- 
don exhibitions paintings that were highly praised, 
when he set foot in Europe he placed all his great en- 
ergies behind the effort to learn a newer, more know- 
ing style. Following in the footsteps of almost every 
American artistic emigrant of his generation, Copley 
hurried to the studio of Benjamin West, a Pennsyl' 
vania expatriate who was court painter to George III. 

West's early career had been very like Stuart's. He 
had started to draw almost spontaneously, amazing his 
Colonial neighbors, and while yet in his teens he had 
become a professional portraitist, practicing a self- 
taught style that made him a great success first in Lan- 
caster, Pennsylvania, and then in the metropolis of 
Philadelphia itself. When a subscription had been 
taken up to send him to Italy, he had been the same 
age as Stuart was now. Although West's first view of 
the pictures he had read about in books left him dis- 
appointed, he never doubted that it was his duty to 
use them as the foundations of a rebuilt style. Soon the 
connoisseurs of Rome were calling him "the American 
Raphael/' In 1763 he took a coach for England. 

London frowned on the Colonial only a moment. 



3 6 GILBERT STUART 

The Archbishop of York became his patron, and 
then the King himself. Abandoning portrait-painting 
as too menial a pursuit, he created vast story-telling 
canvases, bringing to England the neo-classical move- 
ment that was soon to catch fire in France and produce 
such artists as David. Many connoisseurs considered 
West the painter most likely to revive the glories of the 
Renaissance. 

He took his mission with the unselfconscious seri- 
ousness of his Quaker upbringing. It would have been 
madness to bury in provincial Pennsylvania the great 
international career that lay before him, but he never 
forgot that his opportunity had been given him by the 
citizens of that province. If he could not in person 
bring painting to his homeland, his pupils would do 
so. His studio became the first and perhaps the most 
influential of all American art schools. Within its halls, 
one Colonial after another emerged from his home- 
spun style into the fine feathers of world art. 

Stuart must have been familiar with West's reputa- 
tion. He must have known that Charles Willson 
Peale, who had been recommended to him as a teacher 
in America, was a pupil of West's. Probably he had 
heard that in order to be taken into the studio of the 
powerful expatriate, all an American need do was 
present himself and mention his origin. When Water- 
house returned, Stuart had an even closer link with 
West's studio, for Waterhouse had presented letters of 



BATTLE FOR UNIQUENESS 37 

introduction that enabled him to visit there. But Stu- 
art did not feel he had anything to learn from West. 

Stuart was trying to preserve his personal integrity 
by closing his ears to the critical opinions of all Euro- 
pean connoisseurs, his eyes to the sophisticated glories 
of world art. In London there lived a genius who 
came as close as any man can to developing a purely 
individual style, but William Blake was a half-mad 
mystic, able to feed endlessly on the nectar of his own 
imagination. Stuart was not a mystic or tremendously 
concerned with imagination. His personal struggle 
was not to leave the world behind him in a rush of 
dream, but to show it as it was. The development of 
his Newport style had been increasingly toward 
realism. 

In his earlier years, the exterior influences that had 
impinged upon him had been feeble: black'and'white 
engravings, poor versions of old masters, Cosmo Alex- 
ander's superficial, structureless work. Another artist 
might have learned much even from these, as Copley 
had from sources hardly more profound, yet the self- 
willed Stuart decided that it was wiser to rely on per- 
sonal experimentation, and the result had satisfied the 
Newport connoisseurs. 

In London it was less easy to ignore pressures from 
outside. His combination of pride, stubbornness, and 
poverty seems to have kept him to himself until Wa- 
terhouse joined him, but then the two friends set out to 



38 GILBERT STUART 

explore. On a pocket map they marked with red pen- 
cil each street through which they walked, hoping to 
cover the whole city. As a guidebook they used Wil- 
liam Maitland's The History of London from Its 
Foundation to the Present Time. The two huge vol- 
umes took up the city parish by parish, describing the 
history of every old building in terms both erudite and 
picturesque. The author had a dry common sense 
most appealing to Americans. Thus, he doubted that 
at the entertainment given in Westminster Palace by 
Henry III for the marriage of his brother in x 243 the 
number of dishes "amounted to 30,000. If we admit 
the dishes to each have been a foot in diameter, the 
present hall, which is bigger than that at the time of 
Henry III, would exclusive of company only contain 
15,048 dishes." 

The painter's explorations called forcibly to his at- 
tention such a long past, in which tradition had a pro- 
found significance, as was unknown in America. Even 
more disturbing to his confidence in his own untaught 
artistic experimentation was his contact with great art. 
"Stuart and I,** Waterhouse wrote, "agreed to devote 
one day a week to viewing pictures, wherever we 
could get admittance. . . . We found nothing to 
equal the collection at Queen's Palace or Buckingham 
House." Among the many old masters which hung on 
these walls, Americans were commonly most im- 
pressed by Raphael's cartoons at the Queen's Palace. 



BATTLE FOR UNIQUENESS 39 

Stuart did not wish to be impressed, yet Low could lie 
deny that the pictures, although in so many ways 
contrary to his home-grown style, achieved marvel- 
ously what he himself wished to achieve: the realistic 
recording of visual truth. 

So great was the momentum of Stuart's pride that 
he was unable to act upon this discovery. Instead of 
rushing to West's studio there was a whole room 
given to West's paintings at the Queen's Palace he 
tried hysterically to patch the crumbling walls that 
guarded his personal uniqueness. The principal result 
of Stuarfs views of Old World art was to make it im" 
possible for him to stick to his painting. 

Instead, he threw himself into dissipation. When- 
ever he had money in his pocket, he spent it instantly 
in some wild spree. How grandly he treated his gay 
companions! As he carelessly tossed pound notes on 
the bar, he smiled to think that no one could guess he 
ever had been poor. After his money was gone he bor- 
rowed, and when he found he could not pay he threw 
himself into a depression as extreme as his high spirits 
had been. "With Stuart," Waterhouse remembers, "it 
was either high tide or low tide. In London he would 
sometimes lie abed for weeks, waiting for the tide to 
lead him on to fortune." But when at last a knocking 
on the door aroused the slovenly lad from his slovenly 
bed, it was not opportunity that knocked; it was the 
bailiff come to hustle him off to debtor's prison. Wa- 



40 GILBERT STUART 

terhouse often rescued him from sponging-houses by 
paying the demands for which he was confined. "Of 
my allowance of pocket money, he had two thirds, 
and more than once the other third." 

Fothergill, an enthusiastic supporter of American 
liberties, felt guilty because England was engaged in a 
war to suppress those liberties: he backed his neph" 
ew's efforts to help the young American painter. Dr. 
William Curtis, author of Flora Londinensis, was per- 
suaded to sit for his portrait. This picture may possibly 
have been finished, but when it was arranged that as 
a splashy exhibition piece for the Royal Academy 
Stuart should paint a full-length of Dr. John Coakley 
Lettsom, a fashionable practitioner who had been 
Fothergill's protege, Stuart got entangled and soon 
gave up. 

The appearance in his studio of two handsome 
sisters, one with dark hair and the other with reddish 
hair and blue eyes, inspired the young painter to at" 
tempt an act of gallantry that would put him more in 
line with fashionable London practice: he would paint 
one as the tragic, the other as the comic muse. This 
metaphoric approach required for success painting 
techniques entirely different from those Stuart pos- 
sessed. The young ladies could hardly have been 
charmed with the result, that is if there was any result 
beyond a few flirtatious sittings. 



BATTLE FOR UNIQUENESS 41 

Desperate to help his friend, Waterhouse took up 
among his fellow medical students a subscription to 
pay for an engraving of a popular professor; he en" 
gaged Stuart to make the painting. Stuart spent the 
money in a burst of hope and joy, but when the time 
came to get to work, he could not even make himself 
begin. Thus, he alienated the only friends he had in 
London. Fothergill, who felt obliged to pay back the 
money, refused to speak to Stuart again, and Water" 
house suffered, as he wrote, "inexpressible unhappi- 
ness and mortification, which at length brought on me 
a fever, the only dangerous disease I ever encoun" 
tered/' 

Finally, so we read between the lines, Waterhouse 
completely lost patience, and the linen"draper Chor" 
ley, with whom Stuart was currently lodging, gave 
him to understand that he had outstayed his welcome. 
Faced with destitution once more, Stuart was forced to 
face something even more frightening: the state of 
his own intelligence. At last he realized that he had 
lost his battle to become a great painter by his own un* 
aided powers. Late in 1776 or early in 1777 he gave 
in to the expedient he had spurned so long: he wrote 
to Benjamin West. His mood was abject misery. If he 
were to touch the mire, the pathologically proud 
young man must wallow in it to the lowest point of 
self abasement: 



42 GILBERT STUART 

Sir, 

The 'benevolence of your disposition encourageth 
me, while my necessity urgeth me, to write you on so 
disagreeable a subject. I hope I have not offended by 
taking this liberty. My poverty and ignorance are my 
only excuse. Let me beg that I may not forfeit your 
good will, which to me is so desirable. Pity me, good 
sir. Tve just arrived at the age of twenty-one, an age 
when most young men have done something worthy 
of notice, and find myself ignorant, without business 
or friends, without the necessities of life, so far that for 
some time I have been reduced to one miserable meal 
a day, and frequently not even that. Destitute of the 
means of acquiring knowledge, my hopes from home 
blasted, and incapable of returning thither, pitching 
headlong into misery, I have this only hope I pray 
that it may not be too great to live and learn without 
being a burden. Should Mr. West in his abundant 
kindness think of aught for me, I shall esteem it an 
obligation which shall bind me for ever with gratitude. 
With the greatest humility, 

Sir, yours at command, 

Q. C. Stuart 



43 



CHAPTER FOUR 

RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN 
THE NEW 

ALTHOUGH Stuart had described himself as destitute, 
when he decided to follow up his letter to West with 
a personal visit he dressed himself as elegantly as his 
depleted wardrobe would allow. He had held on to 
at least one decent garment: a handsome coat. Having 
arranged his linen around it as best he could, he 
stepped into the street, starting on an errand that was 
to be portentous for American art. 

He knocked on West's door at dinnertime. As luck 
would have it, among those inside was Joseph Whap 
ton, a Tory merchant now in exile from Philadelphia 
but recently a close business associate of Joseph An" 
thony. 

A servant, so Wharton remembered, came into the 
diningTootn and handed West a slip of paper. Having 
read it, the painter said 1 am engaged/ 5 Then, after a 
moment's hesitation: "Who is he? M 

"He says he is an American/ 3 

At this information, West rose and walked into the 
anteroom where the mendicant waited. He must have 
been surprised to see not a ragged, hungry-looking 
creature, but "a handsome youth in a fashionable 
green coat/" Furthermore, the intruder's face did not 



44 GILBERT STUART 

inspire confidence. It was thin and mobile, a little 
elfin4ooking, with its sharp nose, narrow chin, and 
quick bright eyes. It was a clever face, perhaps a little 
too clever, the eyes not direct but shifty, the mouth 
rapid in speech but with a nervous tremble in silence. 
West could read plain on this striking countenance 
the marks of dissipation. 

If Stuart matched his manner to his clothes, he was 
very grand, now that after more than a year of tribula- 
tion he had humiliated himself by appealing to the 
King's painter. He boasted of having swept Newport 
off its feet with his stunning portraits, handled his 
snuffbox with an air, and mentioned some great 
names. Since West had left America in 1760, he was 
unable to judge the young man's veracity; he listened 
with increasing doubt. Was this strange visitor really 
a painter; had he ever met the people of whom he 
spoke? 

Excusing himself, West returned to his guests and 
said to Wharton: "There is a young man in the next 
room who says he is known in our city. Go you and 
see what you can make of him/' 

Wharton, who suspected that his benevolent host 
was easily put upon, was curt with the intruder. "You 
are known in Philadelphia?" 

"Yes, sir/' 

"Your name is Stuart?" 

"V 33 

Yes. 



RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW 45 

"You have no letters for Mr. West?" 

"No, sir/ 5 

"Whom do you know in Philadelphia ?" 

"Joseph Anthony is my uncle/* 

"That's enough come in/' 

On the surface, it would seem that West and Stuart 
were fire and water, the eternal opposites. West lived 
quietly and happily within the moral preconceptions 
of his middle-class Quaker upbringing. All that was 
gay, elegant, evil in eighteenth'century London 
passed him by. He refused to paint countesses in the 
fine feathers of affluence; actresses and courtesans went 
to Reynolds's studio, not his. West believed that art 
demeaned itself when it reflected the lascivious pas" 
sions of the pleasured ving classes. His heroic compo- 
sitions from ancient and modern history exemplified 
such qualities as filial piety or patriotism. Although 
George III, himself an enthusiastic family man, was 
moved, peers who believed that splendor should char" 
acterize a royal court commented sourly that West 
wended his way between his studio and Windsor 
Castle "with the staid look of one of the brethren go" 
ing to and from chapel/' 

Seeing "a necessary connection between art and 
virtue/' West, who considered himself the greatest of 
living painters, felt that he also had to be the most 
moral of men. He made fewer demands on others 
than on himself; tolerance was part of his code as well 



46 GILBERT STUART 

as generosity; and thus lie befriended the wild-look- 
ing young man, as he befriended many another dissi- 
pated beginner. He found Stuart lodgings near his 
studio, at Number zy on Villiers Street, a narrow 
lane of small houses running from the Strand to the 
muddy brink of the Thames (there was no embank- 
ment in those days). Undoubtedly West, in his ha- 
bitual manner, lent the new student a picture to copy, 
either one of his own works or an old master out of 
his extensive collection. 

Shortly after Stuart had found a safe berth with 
West, his unstable hand betrayed him into dropping 
a valuable optical instrument; the camera lucida lay in 
fragments on the hearth. He stood with his back to 
the owner, waiting for the burst of anger with which 
he would himself have greeted such an accident. 
"Well, Stuart/' West said mildly, "y ou ma Y P^k up 
the pieces." Years later, when one of Stuart's intimates 
compared West to a fool, Stuart gave way to fury: "I 
should prefer your playing practical jokes on others!** 
In 1 8 1 6 his pupil Matthew Harris Jouett jotted down 
in his notebook that Stuart had said: "West [was] 
wiser than Reynolds, and was in fact as to goodness 
what Sir Joshua seemed. ... By nature West was 
the wisest man he ever knew, but no Negro boy [was] 
more awkward in expressing his ideas. This came from 
want of literature/* 



RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW 47 
West soon took Stuart on as an assistant, paying 
him a half-guinea a week for painting in draperies. 
Now, for the first time in his career, the young man 
worked not in lodgings but in what would today be 
called a studio! * To an elaborate house at 14 New 
man Street, on the north side of Oxford Street, West 
had added a gallery terminating in two lofty rooms. 
The gallery was hung with West's sketches the whole 
way, except where casts of Venus and Apollo stood 
against one wall; the lofty rooms contained West's 
largest pictures, and usually the artist himself, soberly 
at work. Outside the windows was a garden which, 
with its arcade and statuary, had "an Italian look/' 
The scene was so impressive that the servants walked 
on tiptoe, and visitors, even the greatest men of Eng" 
land, found themselves talking in whispers, as if at 
church. 

Although he kept separate lodgings at least some of 
the time, Stuart soon used West's studio as his business 
address. His master, he remembered gratefully, came 
to treat him like a son. When John Trumbull, a stu- 
dent from Connecticut, appeared in July 1780, he 
found Stuart in possession of a private painting-room 

1 The word "studio" had not yet been imported from Italy. 
"Painting-room," the eighteenth-century term, reflects the fact 
that artists, with the exception of a few leading practitioners 
like West, worked in living-rooms, bedrooms, or barns without 
special architectural features. 



48 GILBERT STUART 

close to West's. "He was dressed in an old black coat, 
with one half torn off the hip and pinned up, and 
looked more like a beggar than a painter/* 

If the quiet on Newman Street was shattered, Stu- 
art was likely to be the cause. "I used very often to 
provoke my good master/' he confessed, "though 
Heaven knows without intending it. You remember 
the color closet at the bottom of his painting-room. 
One day Trumbull and I came into his room and, 
little suspecting that he was within hearing, I began 
to lecture on his pictures, and particularly upon one 
then on his easel. I was a giddy, foolish fellow then. 
He had begun a portrait of a child, and he had a way 
of making curly hair by a flourish of his brush: thus, 
like a figure three. 

" c Here, Trumbull/ said I, 'do you want to learn 
how to paint hair? There it is, my boy! Our master 
figures out a head of hair like a sum in arithmetic. Let 
us see, we may tell how many guineas he is to have 
for this head by simple addition three and three 
makes six, and three are nine, and three are twelve ' 

"How much the sum would have amounted to, \ 
can't tell, for just then in stalked the master, with pal- 
ette knife and palette, and put to flight my calcula- 
tions. 'Very well, Mr. Stuart/ said he he always 
mistered me when he was angry, as a man's wife calls 
him my dear when she wishes him at the devil Very 
well, Mr. Stuart; very well indeed!' You may believe 



RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW 49 
that I looked foolish enough, and he gave me a pretty 
sharp lecture without my making any reply. When 
the head was finished, there were no figures of three in 
the hair." 

Although Stuart found it necessary to make gestures 
of rebellion, he was fascinated by his new environ" 
ment. The raw, ill-educated Colonial now met the 
first gentlemen of the realm. Too proud to accept social 
or cultural inferiority, he rapidly absorbed the breed" 
ing and culture of his associates. He startled Trumbull 
by stating: "Linnaeus is right. Plato and Diogenes call 
man a biped without feathers than a shallow defini- 
tion. Franklin's is better: *a tool^making animal/ But 
Linn^us's is best: 'homo, animal mendax, rapax, 
pugnax* " 

Stuart amended his speech by imitating the elocu" 
tion of the matinee idol John Kemble, who had be" 
come his friend. As he watched his manners blossom, 
he became prouder than ever. One day Dr. Johnson, 
with the immemorial condescension of Englishmen 
toward American pronunciation, asked Stuart where 
a Colonial such as he could have learned to speak so 
well. "Sir/ 3 replied Stuart, "I can better tell you where 
I did not learn it. It was not from your dictionary/' 

West's contribution to Stuart's art was the greatest 
and most difficult contribution a teacher can make. 
He did not attempt to drive the young man into paint" 
ing as he himself painted. "Try it,** he would say 



50 GILBERT STUART 

when he made a suggestion, "and if it is not good you 
can alter it.** More often than not, Stuart did alter it. 
In placing himself under West's tuition, he had ad- 
mitted that he had much to learn from European art, 
but he was far from surrendering his personal citadel. 
Nor did West demand this surrender. He opened be" 
fore Stuart's gaze a storehouse of technical wonders, 
and urged his pupil to select only what he could use 
for his own purposes. 

Although Stuart was West's first assistant for four 
or five years and often painted on his master's "ten' 
acre canvases," he himself never attempted any of 
those historical compositions which everyone who fre- 
quented West's studio told him were the only high 
form of art. "No one," he replied, "would paint his- 
tory who could do a portrait," and he stuck to his own 
specialty, the painting of faces, refusing the instruction 
that would have enabled him to execute a complicated 
picture. 

Drawing in line was considered so basic to the art 
of painting that the Royal Academy School taught 
nothing else. West, who, like all American limners, 
had started to paint before he knew how to draw, re- 
garded this as overemphasis on a tool, yet he recog- 
nized that the tool was essential to historical painters. 
According to Trumbull, West said one day to a 
group of his students, Stuart included: "You ought to 
go to the Academy and study drawing, but as you 



RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW 51 
would not like to go there without being able to draw 
better than you do, if you will only attend, I will keep 
a little academy and give you instruction every eve- 
ning/ 5 Stuart came the first night, but soon got his 
paper black all over. Losing patience, he stamped out, 
and there is no record that he ever attended the Royal 
Academy School. The famous painter Henry Fuseli 
is reported to have said, on seeing one of Stuart's 
drawings: "If this is the best you can do, you ought to 
go and make shoes ." 

Stuart admitted in his old age that he had never 
learned to do a line drawing, but insisted that such 
knowledge was not an asset. Jouett made the follow- 
ing notes on one of his tirades: "Drawing the features 
distinctly and carefully with chalk a loss of time. All 
studies to be made with brush in hand. Nonsense to 
think of perfecting oneself in drawing before one be- 
gins to paint. . . . One reason why the Italians 
never painted so well as other schools." He added 
that when a line sketch is interposed between the crea- 
tive mind and its vision of a completed picture, "a 
fastidiousness ensues and, on the heels of that, dis- 
appointment and disgust/* 

West's portrait style had little influence on Stuart, 
for Stuart did not admire West's portraits. The older 
man undertook likenesses only under pressure, and 
then he employed conventional recipes. Well-born 
English and Continental faces had been rounded and 



52 GILBERT STUART 

colored by so many men for so many years that every 
brushstroke had learnt to fall into its place; highlights 
were placed exactly so; the middle tints had their ac- 
cepted amount of brightness; the shadows their ac- 
cepted amount of dark. The result was an image that 
looked as if it had been carved in the finest alabaster 
and then delicately polychromed. 

One day in West's studio Stuart came on Trum- 
bull painting a third student, William Dunlap. He 
was asked how he liked the picture. "Pretty well, 
pretty well, but more like our masters flesh than na- 
ture's. When Benny teaches the boys, he says : 'Yel- 
low and white there/ and he makes a streak; 'red 
and white there/ and another streak; 'brown and red 
there for a warm shadow/ another streak; 'red and 
yellow there/ another streak. But nature does not color 
in streaks. Look at my hand; see how the colors are 
mottled and mingled, yet all is clear as silver/* 

Stuart, who had no aversion to exaggerating a story, 
told Dunlap an anecdote which, although inaccurate 
in detail, served to dramatize the difference between 
his portrait style and West's. The canvas involved 
was almost certainly not a likeness of George III, since 
Stuart seems never to have painted the King. Further- 
more, West was Royal Historical Painter, not, as im- 
plied, the Royal Portrait-Painter entrusted with the 
manufacture of routine official likenesses. 

"Mr. West treated me very cavalierly on one occa- 



RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW 53 
sion," Stuart stated, "but I had my revenge. It was the 
custom whenever a new Governor General was sent 
out to India that he should be complimented by a 
present of His Majesty's portrait, and Mr. West, be- 
ing the King's painter, was called upon on all such 

occasions. So, when Lord was about to sail for 

his government, the usual order was received for His 
Majesty's likeness. My old master, who was busily 
employed upon one of his ten-acre pictures in com- 
pany with prophets and apostles, thought he would 
turn over the King to me. He never could paint a 
portrait. 

" 'Stuart/ said he, 'it is a pity to make His Majesty 
sit again for his picture: there is the portrait of him 

that you painted; let me have it for Lord . I will 

retouch it, and it will do well enough/ 

"Well enough! Very pretty! thought I. You might 
be civil when you ask a favor. So I thought, but I 
said: 'Very well, sir/ So the picture was carried down 
to his room, and at it he went. I saw he was puzzled. 
He worked at it all that day. The next morning,, 
'Stuart/ said he, 'have you got your palette set?' 

r-V" > 

Yes, sir. 

C 'Well, you can soon set another. Let me have 
the one you prepared for yourself. I can't satisfy my- 
self with that head.' 

"I gave him my palette and he worked the greater 
part of that day. In the afternoon I went up into his 



54 GILBERT STUAE.T 

room, and he was hard at it. I saw that he had got up 
to the knees in mud. "Stuart/ says he, 1 don't know 
how it is, but you have a way of managing your tints 
unlike everybody else. Here; take the palette, and 
finish the head/ 

tc <f s y 

1 can t, sir. 

*' "You can't?' 

" 1 can't indeed, sir, as it is, but let it stand till to- 
morrow morning and get dry, and I will go over it 
with all my heart.' 

"The picture was to go away the day after the mor- 
row, so he made me promise to do it early next morn- 
ing. You know, he never came down into the paint- 
ing-room at the bottom of the gallery until about ten 
o'clock. I went into his room bright and early, and by 
half past nine I had finished the head. That done, Rafe 
[West's son Raphael] and I began to fence, I with 
my maulstick and he with his father's. I had just driven 
Rafe up to the wall, with his back to one of his father's 
best pictures, when the old gentleman, as neat as a lad 
of wax, with his hair powdered, his white silk stock- 
ings, and yellow morocco slippers, popped into the 
room, looking as if he had stepped out of a bandbox. 
We had made so much noise that we did not hear him 
come down the gallery or open the door. 'There, you 
dog/ says I to Rafe, 'there I have you! And nothing 
but your background relieves you/ 

"The old gentleman could not help smiling at my 



RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW 55 
technical joke, but soon looking very stern,, 'Mr. Stu- 
art/ said he, c is this the way you use me?* 

" 'Why, what's the matter, sir? I have neither hurt 
the boy nor the background/ 

ce 'Sir, when you knew I had promised that the pic- 
ture of His Majesty should be finished today, ready to 
be sent away tomorrow, thus to be neglecting me and 
your promise! How can you answer it to me or to 
yourself ?* 

" 'Sir/ said I, 'do not condemn me without exam' 
ining the easel. I have finished the picture; please to 
look at it/ He did so; complimented me highly; and 
I had ample revenge for his It will do well enough/ " 

Stuart loved to feel that he was on his own, breast- 
ing by himself the waves of destiny. On a visit to the 
Royal Academy School, he heard the aspirants, who 
were drawing from the antique as he refused to do, 
name the old masters they wished to imitate; one 
would like to paint like Rembrandt; another visual- 
ized himself as Titian; while a third would follow in 
the steps of "the gentle but divine Raphael/' Finally 
Stuart interposed, remarking that probably he was a 
base fellow of low taste, but that his only interest was 
in copying what he saw before him. "I will not follow 
any master. I wish to find out what nature is for my- 
self, to see her with my own eyes.** He was preening 
himself on the originality of these sentiments when he 
felt a hand upon his shoulder. Behind him stood the 



$6 GILBERT STUART 

great academician Gainsborough. "Thau right, my 
lad/ 5 Gainsborough said. "Adhere to that, and you 
will be a great artist/ 3 

When as a young man in Newport Stuart had re" 
pudiated stilted mannerisms and artificial conventions, 
he had believed himself highly original, yet a similar 
revolt was welling up at hundreds of places in hun" 
dreds of breasts. Gainsborough had passed through it, 
thousands of miles away from Stuart and a half "genera" 
tion before. A modified naturalism had battered its 
way even into the highest ranks of British court paint- 
ing. People were still shown as noble and handsome, 
but they no longer inhabited a special, sealed world 
of birth and elegance. Countesses were healthy young 
girls who walked in gardens and picked flowers. Earls 
stepped from throne rooms to the quarter-decks of 
boats; instead of fingering lace, they rested strong 
hands on cannon. 

The old stereotypes had given painter and sitter 
little choice in the creation of likenesses. Both knew 
how an aristocrat should look; the only requirement 
was a brilliant application of a formula. But the new 
ideal, which attempted to show the sitter as an indi" 
vidual, brought with it a conflict. If the society belle 
was beautiful of face and refined of manner, everything 
was easy; you just put her down as she was. But sup- 
posing she was ugly and clumsy; what were you to do 
then? The artist was supposed to achieve the impos" 



RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW 57 
sible: he was both to create a true likeness and gloss 
over the unflattering truth. 

The successful British artist John Hoppner told 
one of his pupils that "in painting ladies 3 portraits, he 
used to make as beautiful a face as he could, then give 
it a likeness to his sitter, working down from the beau- 
tiful state till a bystander should cry out: 'Oh, I see a 
likeness coming T Whereupon he stopped, never ven* 
turing to make it more like/' 

By mocking the method which society forced upon 
him, Hoppner was expressing distaste. Battle lines 
were beginning to be drawn which, when they be* 
came clearer, were to end in the destruction of the 
portrait as a major activity of major artists. Benjamin 
West, often a leader in esthetic evolution, character^ 
ized likenesses as "mawkish and wearisome monot" 
onies"; he refused to spend "anxious, laborious hours 
in becoming a fashionable painter of vacant faces." 

The two men who were to break down England's 
preoccupation with likenesses Constable and TUP 
ner were already born when Stuart stepped on the 
London scene, but the portrait was still king. All art" 
ists working in this mode were facing within them" 
selves the problem that Stuart faced: how to be true 
to nature and their own vision, and yet sell their work. 
In the canvases of every important portraitist we find 
a veering between the downright and the socially 
smart, the sincere and the salable. 



5 8 GILBERT STUART 

Whether he was conscious of it or not, Stuart's reac- 
tions were part of the movement of the times. Look- 
ing round from the vantage-point of West's studio, he 
discovered much in the painting of his contemporaries 
which fitted his own individual needs. His work 
evolved in the directions of the most up-to-date Eng- 
lish styles, 

In 1777, after he had been with West less than 
twelve months, Stuart emerged as a professional. He 
exhibited A Portrait of a Qentleman at the Royal 
Academy, where it attracted no notice whatsoever. 
The next year he exhibited nothing, although he exe- 
cuted the impressive self-portrait which is the earliest 
surviving example of his English style. In their own 
likenesses, artists can give completer expression to 
their aspirations than in commercial pictures, which 
must satisfy a paymaster. It is of particular interest to 
see how Stuart worked when he had to please no one 
but himself. 

As compared with his Benjamin Waterhouse, 
painted in Newport three years before, the self-portrait 
reveals greatly increased technical skill. The early 
image was crudely composed. Although Stuart's in- 
terest had been in the face, the body, arm, and books 
were not adequately subordinated; they confused the 
picture. But in the self-portrait Stuart has made know- 
ing use of chiaroscuro to place the features in a strong 
light and all other parts of the composition in shadow. 



RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW 59 
Color complements this emphasis. The face is brightly 
tinted, but the large "Rubens hat" is black, and the 
dark-brown coat merges with the dark-brown back' 
ground. Accessories are no longer accurately defined 
objects, but rather semi-abstract elements of composi- 
tion that serve to make rational the off-center placing 
of the head. Hard and limited by sharp outlines, Wa- 
terhouse's features seem to have been carved, with 
aching attention, from some unyielding substance. In 
the self-portrait, however, the shapes are fluently ren- 
dered. They are alive, active, vital. 

On the surface, everything seems changed, but un- 
derneath Stuart is still the same man. His battle had 
always been to show undiluted the truth as he saw it, 
and his Newport evolution had carried him increas- 
ingly toward emphasis on the truth of character. The 
self-portrait shows him still on the same road. Far from 
being prettified or noble, the likeness is a passionate 
attempt to dig deep into psychological verity. We see 
personified on canvas the wild career we have been 
following. Stuart shows himself as a brash, dissatisfied, 
and self-centered young man, brilliant with an un- 
healthy brilliance. The picture is almost frightening in 
the deep self-understanding it reveals; as if the young 
man were not only conscious of the cankers in his 
spirit, but actually proud of them. 

A year later, in 1779, he exhibited at the Royal 
Academy a picture which seems to have been inspired 



60 GILBERT STUART 

by a desire to attract attention. A young boy, }. Ward, 
is depicted in a costume from the time of Van Dyck. 
But Stuart's excursion into the past did not extend be- 
yond subject matter; the technique is definitely con- 
temporary. Indeed, there is quite a startling resem- 
blance to Gainsborough, whose "dragging method of 
tinting 55 Stuart praised as an old man. A charming tour 
de force, the canvas is in sharp contrast with the self- 
portrait. It shows the artist, probably under advice 
from West, trying to escape from his basic realism to a 
more decorative style. When the picture created no 
stir, Stuart gave up such experiments, as far as we 
know forever. The next pictures we have from his 
brush vary from the norm of British portraiture by 
being harder, dryer, more downright. Stuart's com- 
mercial likenesses remained for some years less fluent 
and more conventional than his self-portrait had been. 

In 1781 his work began to attract notice. The 
critic of the St. James Chronicle regarded Stuart's 
Benjamin West as the equal of any portrait in the 
Royal Academy show. This was high praise, as there 
were twelve canvases by Reynolds and a full-length 
by Gainsborough. Enchanted, Stuart spent hours be- 
fore the picture. When West found him there, he 
said "You have done well, Stuart, very well. Now all 
you have to do is to go home and do better." 

Stuart soon became sufficiently well known to In- 
spire detractors. One critic wrote: "Mr. Stuart is in 



RING OUT THE OLD,, RING IN THE NEW 61 
partnership with Mr. West, where it Is not uncom- 
mon for wits to divert themselves with applications 
for things they do not immediately want because they 
are told by Mr. West that Mr, Stuart is the only por- 
trait-painter in the world; and by Mr. Stuart that no 
man has any pretensions in history-painting but Mr, 
West. After such authority, what can we say of Mr. 
Stuart's painting ?" 

It was whispered that Stuart "made a tolerable 
likeness of the face, but as to the figure he could not 
get below the fifth button/' Perhaps to overcome such 
criticism he agreed to do a full-length of a Scotch gen- 
tleman, William Grant of Congalton, However, he 
was delighted to put off the first sitting when Grant re- 
marked that the day was more suited to ice-skating 
than to standing for one's portrait. Stuart was an ex- 
pert skater by English standards; he told a friend that 
his "celerity and activity accordingly attracted crowds 
on the Serpentine/' but when a crack developed in the 
ice, he was forced to return with his sitter to the studio. 
Suddenly Stuart had an inspiration; he decided to 
paint Grant in the attitude of skating, "with the ap" 
pendage of a winter scene in the background." After 
the picture was almost completed, Joseph Baretti, the 
famous Italian lexicographer, called on West and, see- 
ing the canvas in a corner, cried "Who but the great 
artist West could have painted such a one!" On a sub- 
sequent visit he found Stuart at work on the portrait. 



6z GILBERT STUART 

"What, young man, does Mr, West permit you to 
touch his pictures?" When Stuart replied that the 
painting was altogether his own, Baretti frowned 
sagely and remarked: "Why, it is almost as good as 
Mr. West can paint/' 

In later years Stuart told many anecdotes, not all of 
them credible, to demonstrate how he was "suddenly 
lifted into fame" by this one picture. It is hard to be- 
lieve that when Stuart was in Reynolds^ studio, the 
Duke of Rutland rushed in and shouted excitedly to 
the President of the Royal Academy, who undoubt- 
edly had already visited the show for which he was 
responsible: "I wish you to go with me to the exhibi- 
tion. There is a portrait there you ought to see. Every- 
one is enchanted with it." Reynolds, so Stuart con- 
tinued, asked who had painted it. "A young man 
named Stuart." The tale ends with Stuart, suffused in 
blushes, making modestly for the door. 

The newspapers, although filled with gossip about 
the exhibition, do not back up Stuart's story that 
Grant went there dressed in the skating-costume Stuart 
had painted: "The crowd followed him so closely that 
he was compelled to make his retreat, for everyone 
was exclaiming: 'That is he! That is the gentleman!' " 
Stuart asserted that he himself had to stay away lest he 
be stifled with praise. 

As usual, he had embellished what was fundamen- 
tally fact: the painting did attract much attention. 



RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW 63 
Thus Sir John Collum, the antiquary and divine who 
was one of the most popular men of learning in Lon" 
don, wrote a friend: "One would have thought that 
almost every attitude of a single picture had long been 
exhausted in this land of portrait-painting., but one is 
now exhibited which I recollect not before it is that 
of skating. There is a noble portrait, large as life, thus 
exhibited, which produces the most powerful effect/' 

The best comment on the relationship between StU" 
art's style and that of his London contemporaries is 
supplied by the adventures of the picture when, after 
a century of obscurity, it was rescued from a domestic 
wall and returned to the scene of its former triumph. 
Shown in 1 878 at a Royal Academy exhibition of old 
masters, the canvas looked much the same; the major 
metamorphosis was on the label. It was attributed to 
Gainsborough. 

As Whitley has pointed out, this attribution both" 
ered the critics. They all agreed that the landscape 
background had much in common with Gainsbop 
ough, but they were puzzled by the likeness. The 
Daily Telegraph's critic suggested Romney, but his 
colleague on the Times replied that Romney never 
painted a "figure like this for force, ease of movement, 
and fine yet bold execution." He preferred Hoppner 
or Raeburn. Raeburn got the votes of the Illustrated 
London News and the Art Journal, the latter paper 
adding: "A more graceful and manly figure was surely 



64 GILBERT STUART 

never painted by an English artist, and if Gainsbop 
ough were that artist, this is unquestionably his master- 
piece/ 3 

Stuart's success at the Royal Academy show of 
1782 inspired him to establish an independent studio. 
"Today the exhibition closes . . . /* Mrs. Hoppner 
wrote on June 3. "Stuart has taken a house, I am told, 
of 150 rent in Berners Street, and is going to set up 
as a great man/ 3 Although, as a matter of fact, Stuart 
only moved a few doors from West's studio, to 7 
Newman Street, it was a major move. He was now 
on his own. 



CHAPTER FIVE 

PERSONAL FAILURES AND 
PROFESSIONAL TRIUMPHS 

WITHIN two years after he had set up for himself, Stu- 
art was famous; Dunlap remembers that he "had his 
full share of the best business in London, and prices 
equal to any except Sir Joshua Reynolds and Gains- 
borough." In November 1784, William Temple 
Franklin wrote to his grandfather, Benjamin Frank- 
lin, that Stuart "is esteemed by West and everybody 
the first portrait-painter now living; he is, moreover, 
an American. I have seen several of his performances 
which seem to me very great Indeed. He is astonish- 
ing for likenesses. I hear West says that 'he nails the 
face to the canvas.' " In 1787 the critic of the World 
called Stuart "the Van Dyck of the time" and in- 
sisted that Gainsborough's work "shrinks and fades 
away" when compared to Stuart's. Some connoisseurs 
prophesied that he would become the leading portrait- 
painter in England; Reynolds, Romney, and Gains- 
borough were coming to the end of their careers, while 
the new generation of English-born painters Law- 
rence, Beechey, Hoppner, and Raeburn had not 
yet risen to great prominence. 

Here was an amazing metamorphosis. Less than 
ten years before, Stuart had been a crude Colonial art- 



66 GILBERT STUART 

ist no longer able to finish a picture; now lie was a 
leader in one of the most sophisticated schools of pop 
trait-painters ever known. And worldly prosperity 
followed Stuart's fame. He lifted his price for a head 
from five guineas to thirty, and, in 1785, moved to a 
splendid house on fashionable New Burlington Street, 
off Regent Street, for which he paid one hundred 
guineas a year. He imitated West by setting up, in 
some of the rooms, a perpetual exhibition of his own 
work. 

The painter, who was just turning thirty, was be" 
side himself with delight. Sometimes he saw in his 
mind's eye a ragged vagabond shuffling past closed 
doors, staring dully at the dandies in their fine car- 
riages; and then he felt that this vision must be exop 
cised at any cost. When he remembered how he had 
starved on the streets of London, he shook his head 
angrily and hired the best French cook money could 
buy. In his dress, Dunlap tells us, "he emulated in 
style and costliness the leader of English fashion, the 
Prince of Wales, , . . He lived in splendor and 
was the gayest of the gay. As he said of himself, he 
was a great beau." He was soon earning fifteen hun- 
dred pounds a year, but he spent his huge income 
faster than it came in. The sponging-houses and the 
bailiffs' courts that had known him as a ragged boj 
saw him again as a fine gentleman. To extricate him 
self, he had to borrow money at exorbitant interest. 



FAILURES AND TRIUMPHS 67 

His family later defended his extravagance on the 
grounds that he needed, for business reasons, to im- 
press the social world; but Reynolds and Gainsbor" 
ough lived in no such style and moved in more 
exalted circles. Neither Stuart's manner nor his art ap- 
pealed to the socially correct. His most fashionable 
patrons, like the upstart Duke of Northumberland, 
were men who thought of themselves as connoisseurs 
and gave employment to many artists. His work was 
particularly admired by such radicals as the Duke of 
Rutland and Colonel Isaac Barre, who had, in the 
Houses of Lords and Commons, supported the Ameri- 
can cause. 

If a peer graced Stuart's dinner table, he was usu- 
ally a man of action who had earned his own title. 
The painter was friendly with the sea-dog George, 
Lord Rodney, and even more so with Admiral John 
Jervis, recently created Earl of St. Vincent. The diarist 
Joseph Farington later jotted down St. Vincent's 
complaint that "Stuart had received through his 
recommendation at least two thousand pounds, 
and that Stuart had behaved most ungratefully to 
him." 

Stuart's closest intimates belonged to what would 
be called today "caf society." He was often seen with 
the actor John Kemble, and was gallant to Mrs. Sid- 
dons. So as not to be out of place among "the best 
musicians of London/' whom he assiduously culti- 



68 GILBERT STUART 

vated, he took lessons in the flute from a German who 
played in the King's band. 

William Thomas Parke, the principal oboe at the 
opera house, tells us that Stuart belonged to a club in-* 
eluding "two or three other friends from the opera 
house" and William Shield, the vastly successful com- 
poser of ballad operas. Every Saturday night in the 
Haymarket "we supped after the play and the Italian 
opera were ended." When on one occasion Parke 
dined the next day at Stuart's, he joined "a large 
party/' including a famous engraver and "a gentleman 
of fortune who was sitting to Stuart." Parke com" 
plained of a headache, and the painter convulsed the 
company with one of his famous puns: "If a man's 
head comes in contact with a club overnight, it may 
be expected that it will ache the next day/' 

Stuart, Parke remembered, "was a little enthusiasts 
cal or pretended to be so. Rising from his chair sud- 
denly, [he] exclaimed to me with great vehemence: 
'Sit still! Don't stir for your life!' I stared at him with 
astonishment, thinking he must be mad, till in a sub- 
dued tone he added: 1 beg your pardon, but your 
drapery as you now sit is very effective, and I wish to 
make a sketch of it before you move/ " 

No one need be surprised that the young man who 
had lived on charity for years became with success 
overbearing and insolent. When his old disciple 



FAILURES AND TRIUMPHS 69 

Mather Brown came to call Stuart showed himself at 
the window and then instructed his servant to say he 
was out. Listening over the stair well, Stuart heard 
Brown insist that he must be at home, since he had 
been at the window. "Yes, sir/ 5 the servant replied, 
~and he saw you, and he says he is not at home." 

Stuart gleefully repeated this incident to his friends, 
whom he kept constantly amused by ridiculous anec- 
dotes. Dunlap repeats one that was typical: "In the 
early period of Stuart's career as an independent pop 
trait'painter, he had for his attendant a wild boy, the 
son of a poor widow, whose time was full as much 
taken up by play with another of the painter's house- 
hold, a fine Newfoundland dog, as by attendance 
upon his master. The boy and dog were inseparable; 
and when Tom went on an errand, Towser must ac- 
company him. Tom was a terrible truant, and played 
so many tricks that Stuart again and again threatened 
to turn him off, but as often Tom found some way to 
keep his hold on his eccentric master. One day, as 
story-tellers say, Tom stayed when sent on an errand 
until Stuart, out of patience, posted off to the boy's 
mother determined to dismiss him; but on his entering, 
the old woman began first 'Oh, Mr. Stuart, Tom has 
been here!' 

" 'So I supposed/ 

" 'Oh, Mr. Stuart, the dog'/ 



jo GILBERT STUART 

<f *He has been here too. Well, well, he shall not 
come again; but Tom must come home to you, I will 
not keep him/ 

" 'Oh, Mr. Stuart, it was the dog did it/ 

"Did what?' 

" 'Look, sir! Look here! The dog overset my mut" 
ton pie, broke the dish, greased the floor, and eat the 
mutton/ 

" Tm glad of it. You encourage the boy to come 
here, and here I will send him/ 

" It was the dog, sir, eat the mutton/ 

" 'Well, the boy may come and eat your mutton. 
I dismiss him; 111 have no more to do with him/ 

"The mother entreated; insisted it was the dog's 
fault; told over and again the story of the pie, until 
Stuart, no longer hearing her, conceived the plan of a 
trick upon Tom, with a prospect of a joke founded 
upon the dog's dinner of mutton pie. Well, well, say 
no more. Here's something for the pie and to buy a 
dish. I will try Tom again, provided you never let him 
know that I came here today, or that I learned from 
you anything of the dog and the pie/ The promise 
was given, of course, and Stuart hastened home as full 
of his anticipated trick to try Tom as any child with a 
new rattle. Tom found his master at his easel where 
he had left him, and was prepared with a story to ac- 
count for his delay, in which neither his mother, nor 
Towser, nor the mutton made parts. 



FAILURES AND TRIUMPHS 71 

" Very well, sir/ said the painter. 'Bring in din- 
ner. I shall know all about it by and by/ Stuart sat 
down to his mutton, and Towser took his place by 
his side as usual; while Tom, as usual stood in attend- 
ance. 'Well, Towser, your mouth don't water for your 
share. Where have you been? Whisper/ And he put 
his ear to Towser's mouth, who wagged his tail in 
reply. 1 thought so. With Tom to his mother's?* 

" 'Bow-wow/ 

** 'And have you had your dinner?* 

'* "Bow/ 

" 1 thought so. What have you been eating? Put 
your mouth nearer, sir/ 

"'Bowwow!' 

" 'Mutton pie very pretty you and Tom have 
eaten Mrs. Jenkins's mutton pie, ha?* 

" 'Bow-wow/ 

" 'He lies, sir! [cried Tom]. I didn't touch it. He 
broke Mother's dish and eat all the mutton/ 

"From that moment Tom thought if he wished to 
deceive his master, he must leave Towser at home, but 
rather on the whole concluded that what with the dog, 
the devil, and the painter, he had no chance of suc- 
cessful lying." 

Concerning the illicit love affairs the tempestuous 
Stuart must have had, the record is, of course, silent; 
but we do know about Charlotte Coates. Shortly be- 
fore he had set up for himself, he had increased his 



72 GILBERT STUART 

knowledge of anatomy by attending lectures given 
for medical students at the Windmill Street School by 
the learned, literary, and alcoholic Dr. William Cum* 
berland Cruikshank. There he became so friendly 
with a fellow pupil, the son of Dr. William Coates 
(or Coats), that he visited his new friend's family at 
Reading, in Berkshire County, Stuart became popular 
with the father, a practicing physician, and all the 
children. He found particular comfort in playing the 
flute while fourteen-yeapold Charlotte sang in fine 
contralto voice. It was such a gently innocent scene, 
there in the quiet of a provincial town, as his harried 
soul longed for. 

However, the girl changed, with the amazing sud" 
denness of her sex, into an "extremely pretty" young 
lady; her voice took on a disturbing richness that the 
superb musicianship which came naturally to her made 
strike directly at Stuart's heart. Relaxed friendship 
was no longer possible; he proposed marriage. 

Charlotte was eager, deeply in love, but her fam- 
ily, although of no particular financial or social sta* 
tion, '"opposed the match violently/ 3 Her father, as 
she remembered in later years, admired Stuart's "gen- 
ius," yet was "perfectly aware of his reckless habits/' 
Months of heart-rending negotiation had to be lived 
through before on May 10, 1786 the Rev. Mr. 
Springate of Reading married the painter, at the age 
of thirty, to his eighteen-year-old charmer. 



FAILURES AND TRIUMPHS 73 

If Stuart had promised to reform, the promise came 
to nothing. Now that he had a beautiful voice in the 
family, he gave huge parties at which his musical 
friends played. It was his joy to join them on the flute 
and hear his lady sing to their expert notes. Through" 
out a long life she looked back to these occasions as 
the apex of her existence. To her children she boasted 
that even the over-critical Fuseli made her repeat her 
songs. 

Still the money went out faster than it came in. At 
one desperate time Stuart even took advantage of his 
beloved benefactor; he borrowed back from Mrs. 
West a portrait of her husband he had given her as a 
token of gratitude. He wanted, he explained, to touch 
up some rough place. Instead he sold the picture to 
Alderman BoydelL Probably he had meant to copy it 
for Boydell, but, having delayed too long, had at last 
sent the original in the confident belief that he would 
paint another for Mrs. West. He never got around 
to it. 

What are we to make of Stuart's irresponsibility? 
His biographers have usually ducked the problem by 
denying that it exists. If Stuart, tossing off beakers of 
port in the Valhalla where dead artists go, can read 
what has been written about him, how often his rib- 
ald laugh must startle his gay and ghostly compan- 
ions! He told his pupils that when painting a portrait 
"you cannot be too particular in what you do to see 



74 GILBERT STUART 

wliat animal you are putting down." But most of Stu* 
art's biographers have drawn a picture of him as full 
of polite evasions as are those smirking society like" 
nesses against which the great painter reacted. Such 
aberrations as are considered correct for artists are 
given him: he was, we are told, a poor businessman, 
a little eccentric on the surface, but underneath as pure 
as any newborn lamb. SnuS is permitted him, but not 
liquor. 

Writers who move in the never-never-land of po- 
lite biography must make such pious statements to 
keep from walking the only other road open to them, 
that of showing Stuart as a grinning devil, vicious be- 
cause of an inherent love of evil. For this world of vir- 
ginal, scholarly pretense is bound by the same alter- 
natives as the Qodeys Lady's Book of yesterday or 
the soap operas of todays television. A man is either a 
hero or a villain, altogether good or altogether bad. 

Should we examine Stuart in the same mood of ob- 
jective sympathy with which he examined his sitters, 
we should see before us a creature hag-ridden by 
jangling nerves. Toward the end of his London pe- 
riod he started a self-portrait as a present for his wife. 
He only undertook the task after violent persuasion, 
and he was unable to finish it. The sketched-in canvas 
is one of the most anguished, tortured pictures this 
writer has ever seen. The lean face is twisted with 
passionate unhappiness. 



FAILURES AND TRIUMPHS 75 

Clearly Stuart's excesses were not the result of high 
spirits; he never found the world a restful lodging" 
house. The eighteenth'century citizen of Maryland, 
Andrew Ellicott, might have been thinking of Stuart 
when he wrote home after his first meeting with the 
Yankees that "these northern gentry appear mightily 
pestered with a restless and uneasy spirit which some 
good people who are now lodging with me suppose 
must proceed from the remains of that witchcraft 
which formerly prevailed in their country /' But StU" 
art's witches, like every witch that bestrode a broom- 
stick, rode it through the firmament of his own mind. 
Almost a decade had passed since that awful mo* 
ment when Stuart had appeared, an elegantly dressed 
beggar, on the doorstep of Benjamin West. Like a 
desperate man leaping from a bridge, he had thrown 
himself into the stream of world art that swept through 
the studio of the King's painter. The tides he had so 
dreaded carried him to prosperity and fame, yet again 
and again he tried to swim against the current. 

Although Stuart remained intimate with West, he 
felt it necessary, as soon as he had set up a studio of 
his own, to demonstrate his independence in a public 
and dramatic manner. Anyone who knew anything 
about art in London was conscious that West was sec* 
ond only to Reynolds (whom he was to succeed as 
president) as a power in the Royal Academy. Indeed, 
it had been West's influence with the King which had 



76 GILBERT STUART 

brought royal patronage to the more distinguished art" 
Ists when, in 1768, they decided to form their own 
academy in opposition to the Society of Artists, where 
they were being outvoted by their mediocre brethren. 

Stuart's works were welcomed at the Royal Acad" 
emy, yet in 1783 he submitted nothing there. In- 
stead, he sent nine canvases to the Society of Artists, 
which had been staggering along as an outlet for the 
second-rate. The members, who had not for years had 
so important a recruit, were beside themselves for joy; 
his pictures outshone everything else in the show; he 
was instantly elected to the company of his inferiors; 
but even his help did not keep the Society from falling 
on such evil days that it could not hold another exhibi* 
tion for many years. 

In 1784 Gainsborough threatened to secede from 
the Royal Academy because the members insisted on 
adhering to their rule that pictures be hung on "the 
line/' eight and a half feet from the floor, although his 
Three Princesses had been painted for a lower spot. 
The St. James Chronicle reported that Stuart would 
join Gainsborough in founding a rival organization. 
However, the plan failed to mature, and in 1785, 
the year Stuart moved to New Burlington Street, he 
returned to the Royal Academy exhibition with three 
portraits. This was the last time. 

Once he had his private gallery well installed, he 
relied on his ability to lure connoisseurs, patrons, and 



FAILURES AND TRIUMPHS 77 

newspaper paragraphers to his own house; he sent to 
no public exhibitions. The Royal Academicians, who 
regarded support of their organization, with its schools 
and pension funds, as a professional duty, were an- 
noyed, and the Public Advertiser asked whether Stu- 
art was "already so giddy with the summit of his pro- 
fession as to overlook what is expected of him? . . . 
His head of Col. Barre would have counted largely in 
the exhibition in the sum of money [from admissions] 
and skill/' Stuart had killed his chances of being 
elected to the Royal Academy, an honor most artists 
eagerly desired and considered a great help in selling 
pictures. 

By temperament, he was a revolutionary. Although 
modern critics, more gifted with anachronistic preju- 
dice than historical insight, have accused him of pro- 
ducing typical society portraits, his own contempo- 
raries attacked his work for lacking the expected 
graces. In 1782 one newspaper stated that he "seldom 
fails of a likeness, but wants freedom of pencil and ele- 
gance of taste/' Another called his portrait of a Swed- 
ish gentleman "a fine picture and a strong likeness/' 
but added: "If we are not mistaken, the original would 
not like to carry the copy of himself back to Sweden/' 

Year after year, the comments ran the same way. 
His personages, it was charged, lacked "a distin- 
guished air/' In 1805, after Stuart had returned to 
America, a critic thus summarized his London career: 



78 GILBERT STUART 

"When we speak of him as the most accurate painter, 
we mean to say that, having a very correct eye, he 
gave the human figure exactly as he saw it, without 
any attempt to dignify or elevate the character; and 
was so exact in depicting its lineaments that one may 
almost say of him what Hogarth said of another artist, 
c that he never deviates grace 3 ; and from all of which 
we may fairly infer that he was never a favorite 
painter with the ladies." 

A half'dozen of his surviving English portraits de* 
pict a man for every one depicting a woman, yet he 
could create a marvelous likeness of an adolescent girl, 
as his Augusta Montagu shows. We suspect that his 
emotions were deeply involved in this portrait, for be- 
hind the lyrical image lay one of the wildest and most 
publicized tragedies of eighteenth'century London. 

Before Miss Montagu was born, the Celestial Fa- 
blist set the action in motion in a millinery shop. It 
was a hackneyed story at first: a beautiful salesgirl, a 
great lord twice her age smitten as he walked by on 
the street; passionate offers and discreet replies; tempta^ 
tions and blushes and at last surrender. But now, as the 
story gains momentum, strange elements enter. The 
Earl of Sandwich, that aging libertine, did not throw 
off Miss Martha Ray as he had thrown off so many 
others. Neither did he marry her, of course, but he 
took her to Hinchingbrooke, his family seat, and on to 
London when he became First Lord of the Admiralty. 



FAILURES AND TRIUMPHS 79 

Miss Ray was faithful to her Earl; gave him a large 
brood of children, of whom Augusta was one; be- 
haved in a manner which was "all the most exacting 
could have required"; and charmed everyone with 
"the beauty of her singing and the modesty of her be- 
havior/ 3 

The stage was now set for the entrance of a young 
man ten years her junior, Lieutenant James Hackman 
of the British army. He could not bear it that one so 
good and so beautiful as Miss Ray should be an old 
libertine's doxy; he offered to make an honest woman 
of her; he offered marriage. But she smiled sweetly 
and said that she was very happy. 

Spiritualized, or so he thought, by his love, the 
young man tore the military red from his shoulders 
and replaced it with the black robes of the Church of 
England. As Vicar of Wiveton, he administered to 
the puling babies of the poor, but always there floated 
through his mind that vision. Now he spoke to the 
Earfs mistress of her soul, begging her to remember 
the hereafter, but the beautiful body that he could 
never quite ignore just smiled and waved its fan. After 
long meditation, he realized what he had to do. He 
followed her to the theater one winter night; he waited 
while she laughed at the scenes of Love in a Village; 
he saw her come out, her face flushed with the mem- 
ory of pleasure; and then he shot her through the fore- 
head. She died instantly, but the bullet he had saved 



80 GILBERT STUART 

for his own suicide failed. Lying on the pavement 
slightly wounded and covered with blood, he struck 
himself on the head repeatedly with the butt of his 
gun, but to no avail. 

Society rocked with the scandal. It became the ma" 
jor topic of conversation at Dr. Johnson's club, where 
the great pundit quarreled with his intimates over the 
interpretation of the evidence. Since the war with 
America was on and the Earl was First Lord of the 
Admiralty, Horace Walpole wrote: "I do not doubt 
but it will be found that the assassin was a dissenter, 
and instigated by the Americans to give such a blow to 
the state/' But the Vicar proved to be of unexampled 
piety and patriotism. Men speculated on his motiva- 
tions and his emotions; women wept oceans in their 
sympathy for the fallen churchman. Inserting himself 
in the forefront of the sensation, Boswell rode with the 
murderer to the gallows and bade him a fond farewell 
under the shadow of the gibbet. All London had a 
wonderful time. 

Somewhere in the background cowered a fourteen- 
year-old girl, Augusta Montagu, the dead woman's 
daughter. Already in an anomalous position, she was 
now marked for life. No one would ever meet her 
who did not recall her illegitimate birth and her flam- 
boyant family tragedy. Stuart too must have known 
her history, but the likeness he painted of her ex- 
presses nothing but youth and gaiety and innocence. 



FAILURES AND TRIUMPHS 81 

Transmuted by the painter's brush, Augusta Montagu 
goes down to posterity as a symbol of unclouded 
young womanhood. 

Perhaps Stuart saw in her a reflection of his own 
worldly plight. They were both gay, perhaps a little 
too gay. They walked the world like ordinary people, 
yet around them both were intangible bars not of their 
own making. Run as fast as they would, sit quietly as 
monk or nun, their prison was always round them. 
They might reach their hands through the crevices, 
touching lovers, touching friends, but they could never 
draw another human being really close. Two outcasts 
moved in the studio together: the rising painter, the 
budding girl Stuart determined to paint out of both 
their lives the pain and the memory. 

The portrait is the loosest and most lyrical of all 
Stuart's English works. The brash flew in his hands, 
putting on color lightly, surely, with an instantaneous 
lightness he was not to achieve again until much later 
in his career. The white cap with its blue trim sits 
Jauntily on the honey^colored hair, while the down" 
ward4eaning face, smiling at a letter held in delicate 
hands, is infused with girlish joy, the pure radiance of 
a happy child hardly conscious that she is a woman. 
The eyes are put in with so light a stroke that they 
have a transparent glow. In contrast to the position of 
the head, the body leans back in a gesture that is full 
of life yet completely contained within the quadri' 



8 2 GILBERT STUART 

lateral of the frame. Perhaps the most amazing techni- 
cal triumph of this inspiration is the way everything 
flows no frill, or feature, or lock of hair is static 
and yet the viewer's eye finds itself at rest. Every 
movement, every shape is balanced with every other 
in a completely self-contained vision. 

The color is high-spirited. A light blue dominates 
from trimmings on cap, dress, and neckpiece; red" 
blond hair, mauve drapery, pink lips, warm complex- 
ion are kept soft and light to stay in key. The picture 
is not altogether finished. Stuart worked only as long 
as his vision held. We can see him sinking into a chair 
after the girl left with the exhaustion of a mystic re- 
turned from reverie. 

In Augusta Montagu, Stuart escaped from the con- 
flict of his times the way Gainsborough often escaped, 
into a world of the imagination where the personal vi- 
sion of the dreamer rules. However, he was rarely able 
to mount into that delectable world. Like Strephon, 
he was supernatural only down to the waist. This is re- 
vealed by a curious dichotomy in many of his English 
paintings. We have seen that late-ninteenth-century 
critics were willing to believe that the landscape back- 
ground in Stuart's Qentleman Skating was by the lyri- 
cal Gainsborough, but they preferred to attribute the 
face to that downright portraitist Raeburn. 

The stylistic contradictions which inspired such 
judgments reflected a deep cleavage in Stuart's nature. 



FAILURES AND TRIUMPHS 83 

He was gay on the surface, sad below; superficially 
sure, but basically tortured and uncertain. The time 
was to come when, at least as far as his painting went, 
he was to build a bridge over this gap; the time was 
not yet. In many of his English and Irish portraits the 
backgrounds are painted with dash: trees and drapery 
and tresses are given a delightful movement and tex* 
ture by a delicate stroking of the brush. His likenesses 
are quick and highspirited to the neck, and then sud- 
denly grave and exact. He refused to stylize flesh as he 
stylized trees. He showed features with almost photo- 
graphic accuracy; his pursuit of character was slow, 
deeply pondered, profound. For portraits in which he 
wished to excel, he urged the sitter to have a life mask 
made in plaster so that he could study more carefully 
the structure of the head. 

That, despite their brilliance, his Gainsborough" 
esque backgrounds did not appeal profoundly to his 
nature is shown by one of the strangest facts in this 
strange man's career. His passport to success, QentU' 
man Skating, had shown a man in physical action be" 
fore a well-defined landscape containing lesser figures; 
the setting and pose created a greater sensation than 
the subject's face. A painter of normal temperament 
would have followed up his triumph with other pic- 
tures in the same mode. But not Stuart. He had cre- 
ated the picture as a freak to attract attention. It had 
done so. That was enough. Critics of every generation 



84 GILBERT STUART 

who liave discussed the canvas insist that Stuart could 
have been a great landscape-painter. He was not in- 
terested. 

He was no more interested in conventionally elab- 
orate portraits, but he undertook them sometimes un- 
der pressure from particular patrons. Thus he painted 
Lord St Vincent, standing full-length on a bluff with 
a pygmy British fleet visible under his pointing arm, 
The picture is lost, but an engraving after it suggests 
that it was not very successful. Indeed, when Stuart 
had refused instruction in line drawing, he had de- 
prived himself of the best means of composing a pic- 
ture containing many sharply defined forms. 

During 1784 the American millionaire William 
Bingham commissioned him to paint a conversation 
piece: it was to be an outdoor scene with trees, show- 
ing Bingham himself, a little girl in a wide hat, and 
Mrs. Bingham holding a baby on the back of a horse. 
Stuart purchased a suitably large canvas, and sketched 
in heads and shoulders, those of the adults brilliantly, 
those of the children well enough. Having added a 
few feet of the horse's back, he threw his brushes down 
and abandoned the project. 

Whether or not Stuart ever completed a canvas con- 
taining more than two figures is not altogether clear; if 
he did, it would be a great prodigy in his style. Even 
double portraits that can be authoritatively attributed to 
his brush are scarce. He rarely painted a mother and 



FAILURES AND TRIUMPHS 85 

child together; indeed, he avoided depicting children 
whenever he could. Among his more than one thou- 
sand pictures there are hardly a dozen likenesses of 
the very young. 

With great perversity or single-mindedness de- 
fine it as you will Stuart devoted his major energies 
to character studies of adult faces, and in his desire to 
probe deep he often offended the fashionably minded. 
He described to his friends how when a foppish doc- 
tor came for a first sitting, he surveyed the sartorial 
vision for a moment and then sat down to talk. The 
physician kept looking at his watch, and finally ven- 
tured: "Mr. Stuart, this is very entertaining, but you 
must be aware that my time is precious. I feel very un- 
comfortable." 

"I am glad of it. I have felt so ever since you en- 
tered my studio ** 

"Why?" 

"You look like a fool. Disarrange that fixed-up cos- 
tume, and I will go to work/ 3 Stuart was concerned 
with people as God made them, not with the con- 
tributions of their tailors or their perfumers. 

When a lady appeared for a sitting well armed with 
rouge, he told her for he was courtly to the ladies 
that she was too lovely to seek exterior assistance. She 
should wash her face. 

"Oh, Mr. Stuart, you have found me out?" 

"Of course I have. Anyone having knowledge of 



86 GILBERT STUART 

the human face knows there is a boundary to the color 
in every lady's cheek, and if you go beyond the line 
you will certainly be detected." He showed her the 
line. "But pray do not do it. You do not need it." 

Stuart was considered particularly successful in 
painting professional men. When Alderman Boydell, 
the famous publisher of engravings, wished to pre- 
serve the features of London's leading artists in a 
gallery of portraits, he gave the commission to Stuart. 
Here was a task perfectly suited to the interests of the 
American; the fifteen pictures that resulted are amaz* 
ingly various and profound. His likeness of Dominic 
Serres, the marine architect who was once a ship's 
master, shows us a mighty physique gone flabby with 
age and lack of exercise. The heavy body has become 
round-shouldered, and the once powerful face is now 
mild and fat, the mouth relaxed into a slightly foolish 
smile. Robert Thew, who rose from making barrels to 
making engravings, is a younger, more energetic man, 
an honest artisan turned part-time gentleman; he 
would bow low to a peer, but not hesitate to worst his 
lordship at a business deal. 

Stuart's rendering of Sir Joshua Reynolds is cast in 
an elegiac mood. We see an aging social and artistic 
leader whose fine costume contrasts with his tired, 
half-cynical expression. Reynolds is sure of his posi- 
tion and jealous of his dignity, yet he seems to be 
looking down from his pinnacle of fame and pride and 



FAILURES AND TRIUMPHS 87 

wondering a little, now that the end is near,, what the 
long road and all the adulation signified. Sir Joshua is 
said to have disliked the portrait. But his first biog" 
rapher, the anonymous author of Testimony to the 
Qenius of Sir Joshua Reynolds, regarded it as the best 
of Reynolds's many likenesses. 

Lack of professional success did not explain Stuart's 
sudden disappearance from the grand establishment on 
New Burlington Street. One day he was among the 
most admired artists in London; the next day no one 
knew where he and his family were. Newspapers de* 
scribed them variously as in America, where Stuart 
had gone to look after "a large tract of land, the prop- 
erty of his father"; or in Dublin; or in Paris. Even 
their best friends had no idea what had happened to 
them. So carefully did Stuart cover their trail that to 
this day we do not know where they spent the au" 
tumn of 1787. Undoubtedly their sudden departure 
was flight, flight from debts. "I knew Stuart well/* Sir 
Thomas Lawrence said, "and I believe the real cause 
of his leaving England was his having become tired of 
the inside of some of our prisons/' He owed eighty 
pounds for snuff alone. 



CHAPTER SIX 

IRISH VARIETIES 

FINALLY, Stuart turned up with his family in Dublin. 
He had been invited there by the Duke of Rutland, 
recently appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Stuart 
was to state dramatically that on entering the city he 
met Rutland's funeral procession leaving it. His Grace 
was buried on November 17, 1787, a date that prob- 
ably approximates the time of Stuart's arrival. 

If rumor is correct, the painter had relied so heavily 
on the Duke's help that he had brought no money 
with him, and before he got round to making any, he 
was carried to debtor's prison. This was a spur to in* 
dustry. He set up his easel behind the bars, and the 
local gentry flocked into prison to be painted by one 
of the most accomplished artists ever to visit their dis- 
tant capital. Since it was Stuart's habit to charge half 
price at the first sitting this practice, he insisted, had 
been urged on him by a delegation of his London ad- 
mirers which included Rutland, Lord St. Vincent, 
and Colonel Barre he soon had enough cash to pay 
off his debts, tip the jailer, and find a less unconven- 
tional spot in which to complete the portraits. 

Debts amassed soon again. Whether or not at the 
time of his arrival, Stuart undoubtedly spent some time 



IRISH VARIETIES 89 

in a Dublin prison. His Irish crony, }. D. Herbert, 
gives an admiring account of his skill in recognizing 
bailiffs at several hundred yards, and his address at 
evading them. "So silly am I," Herbert quotes Stuart 
as saying, c< and so careless of keeping out of debt, it has 
cost me more to bailiffs for my liberty than would pay 
the debts for which they would arrest me. I confess 
my folly in feeling proud of such feats." 

A young painter, Herbert had met Stuart at a din" 
ner given by a group of Dublin artists, where the 
American shared the role of guest of honor with an" 
other but less distinguished professional from London, 
Christopher Pack. Basking in the admiration of the 
provincials, Pack boasted that Sir Joshua Reynolds, 
when stumped by a particularly difficult piece of 
painting, made use of his help. Stuart downed a glass 
of wine and asked in a loud voice what was the 
speaker's name? On being told, he shouted: "Pack? 
Pack! Well, IVe often heard of a pack of nonsense, 
but I never saw it before." 

Having annihilated his fellow practitioner from the 
capital, Stuart delivered an oration of his own. He had 
started life, he confided, as a musician, and had gone 
to London to follow that art. The idea of painting had 
never occurred to him until he visited West's studio, 
When he asked to borrow a canvas and brushes, West 
laughed at the idea that a man with no training could 
paint, but Stuart sat right down and turned out a toler" 



go GILBERT STUAB.T 

able portrait. As Pack sat In vanquished silence, Stuart 
described West's amazed admiration. 

Although Stuart loved to deflate the pompous, he 
was kind to beginners who came to him for help. He 
assisted the son of a Dublin linen-draper, George 
Place, to become a professional miniaturist. When 
John Comerford, a primitive painter from Kilkenny, 
visited Stuart, the results were so decisive that some 
thirty-five years later Comerford sent his former 
teacher this message: "He said that he owed more to 
you for what he is now (and he has an income of two 
thousand sterling and enjoying at the same time a con- 
siderable reputation as an artist) than to all the rest of 
the artists in the world besides/' 

The advice Stuart gave Martin Archer Shee had 
autobiographical overtones. Shee was nineteen, al- 
most exactly the age at which Stuart had left Newport 
for London; he was a self-taught professional doing a 
brisk business in unsophisticated portraits; he doubted, 
as Stuart had done, the usefulness to his art of sophisti- 
cation. Now expertly trained, Stuart urged Shee not 
to bury his talents in Dublin, where he could expect 
neither appreciation nor improvement. Obediently, 
Shee went to London, where he became a famous so- 
ciety portraitist, a knight, and President of the Royal 
Academy. 

Older Irish painters found Stuart's arrival a catas- 



IRISH VARIETIES 91 

txophe, for he monopolized the best business; even 
Robert Home, the leading native portraitist, was 
forced to flee to the provinces. The Irish equivalents 
of the toplofty aristocrats who had shied away from 
Stuart's studio in London flocked to him like crows to 
a cornfield. Stuart was not impressed by their birth, 
their airs, or their faces. It became very difficult to get 
him to finish a picture, "so fond was he of touching the 
half-price/' 

Herbert tells us that he "had all the equalizing spirit 
of the American, and looked contemptuously on titled 
rank." When Stuart depicted a daughter of the Arch" 
bishop of Dublin, he did not make the likeness flat" 
tering enough to suit her. Her complaints annoyed 
Stuart, and he simply stopped painting on the portrait. 
While Herbert was lounging in the studio several days 
later, a flunky announced that die Bishop was below 
in his carriage and wanted Stuart to come down and 
talk with him. Herbert rose to go. 

"No/ 3 said Stuart. "You must stay and witness a 
novel scene/ 3 Then he sent down word that he was 
not used to attending on carriages, but that if the 
Bishop would come up to his painting'room he 
would speak to him. The servant returned in a minute 
to report that the Bishop's gout kept him from coming 
up. Stuart sent the flunky back with the message that 
he was extremely sorry for two reasons: one, for the 



92 GILBERT STUART 

Bishop's sufferings; and two, that he had the rheuma- 
tism himself. However, he would try to meet His 
Grace halfway. 

With a wink at Herbert he slipped off his shoe, 
wrapped a silk handkerchief round his foot, and 
limped exactly halfway down the stairs, . where he 
waited for the Bishop, who came limping painfully 
up. "Well/* Herbert heard the episcopal voice re- 
mark, "I have contrived to hobble up, you see, Mr. 
Stuart. Sorry to see your foot tied up." 

"Ha! Oh, dear!" 

"Do you suffer very much with your foot?** 

"Oh, very much, my lord/* 

The Bishop remonstrated that the picture of his 
daughter was "not pleasing/* With Stuart leading the 
way, the two men limped slowly up the stairs to his 
studio. Placing the picture on the easel, Stuart began 
to lay a dark color on the background. The Bishop 
watched him curiously, but when Stuart, continuing 
the rhythmical sweep of his brush, laid color over the 
face too, he remonstrated. "Now what are you do- 
ing? Are you painting it out?" 

"Yes, I am putting Your Grace out of pain, as 
much as I can. I shall return the half-price, and am 
sorry I cannot please Your Grace/ 3 

The Bishop insisted he only wanted the face al- 
tered, not the whole picture destroyed. Stuart nodded 
gravely, dipped some tow in turpentine, and removed 



IRISH VARIETIES 93 

the color. Then he said: "A dressmaker may alter a 
dress, a milliner a cap, a tailor a coat, but a painter 
may give up his art if he attempts to alter to please. It 
cannot be done." 

The Bishop bowed and hobbled away. Stuart at" 
tended him to the middle step of the stairs, bowed 
low, and returned jubilant with victory. He instructed 
his servant to take the picture to the Bishop's house, 
but not to leave it until he had collected fifteen 
guineas. 

Obviously Stuart's rapid rise in the world had not 
made him a snob. The poverty of his young man" 
hood had filled him with the desire to associate with 
the rich and fashionable, but when he reached this 
end, he was neither obsequious nor satisfied. Perhaps 
he realized that the Irish gentry, although they found 
his pranks and tall tales amusing, did not regard him 
as one of them. In any case, the American, having 
leaped the hurdle into high society, found it necessary 
to prove that society was not so high after all. He was 
like a young boxer who struggles to meet the world's 
champion, but only that he may knock him out. Her" 
bert found that it was not Stuart's friendship with the 
rich but his "consciousness of his preeminence as a 
painter" that gave him the air of a coxcomb, 

Stuart told a story which he may well have made 
up to show his opinion of ancestors. He said that an 
Irish merchant, who had got a castle by a fortunate 



94 GILBERT STUART 

speculation, sent for him to paint the portraits of his 
forebears. The painter assumed, of course, there 
would be drawings or miniatures to enlarge; on his 
arrival at the castle he found none. "How the deuce/ 3 
he cried, "am I going to paint your ancestors if you 
have no ancestors ?*" 

"Nothing easier. Go to work and paint such an- 
cestors as I ought to have had/ 3 

Delighted, Stuart turned out a goodly company of 
knights in armor, judges with bushy wigs, and ladies 
depicted in the archaic manner with nosegays and 
lambs; ancestors which, he implied, did as well as the 
real article. A painter could be, if he cared so to de- 
mean himself, the equivalent of a college of heralds. 

In Dublin, Stuart's reputation loomed so large that 
he was not forced to paint according to any taste ex- 
cept his own; his work became more fluent and 
more original than it had been in London. When 
induced to create an official portrait of conventional 
elegance, he did so in a spirit that seems close to 
parody. 

Stuart's full-length of the noble earl who was Lord 
Chancellor of Ireland shows John Fitzgibbons 
haughty yet sheeplike face almost swallowed up in its 
wig. The body is dwarfed by its robes of office, which 
are so encrusted with gold embroidery that they seem 
to be standing by themselves. Strewn round the pic- 
ture are a gold mace with a gold crown on top; the 



IRISH VARIETIES 95 

chancellor's purse, embroidered with the arms of Brit" 
ain and most mightily tasseled; an overfed stone col" 
umn; an old rose curtain dangling from nowhere; and, 
of course, a brightly tinted sunset sky. How Stuart 
must have laughed up his sleeve as he listened to the 
breathless eulogies of the local esthetes! 

Most of the portraits Stuart painted in Ireland are 
very simply composed: the likeness of the future 
admiral, the Honorable Thomas Pakenham, is typi- 
cal. First we are struck, as Stuart wanted us to be, by 
the face: one of those Anglo-Saxon countenances that 
are quite vacant on the surface. A French adversary 
might have mistaken the sea-dog for a dolt whose in- 
telligence was suited only to converse with foxhounds* 
But the Frenchman, and this Stuart indicates most 
deftly, would have been courting trouble. Behind the 
sleepy eyes, the blank forehead, the receding chin, a 
practical and intolerant mind moves with all the force 
of an excellent instrument which has been swept 
clean, by birth and by training, of wonder and self- 
doubt. 

The subtlety of this character study is more than 
matched by the subtlety of the colors. The head is 
silhouetted against an abstraction of a sunset sky: mot- 
tled red shading off to patches of grayish blue. Echo- 
ing and contrasting are two other reds, a creamy pink 
collar and the delicate pink-to-carmine mottling of 
the face. A mauve-green medal, chiming with the 



96 GILBERT STUART 

gray hair, brings in another range of tints, but basically 
this picture is a brilliant exercise in reds. 

Stuart lived for a while in the city, on Pill Lane, 
but soon bought a farm at Stillorgan. The exact size 
of the family he took with him to this fashionable sub- 
urb it is impossible to know, for records concerning 
Stuarts other than the resplendent husband and father 
are startlingly meager. The best evidence indicates 
that during his lifetime Gilbert had twelve children, 
ten girls and two boys, but specific information can 
be found concerning only the one boy and four girls 
who lived to maturity. Even about these there is much 
confusion. Thus, one of the younger daughters as- 
sumed that the son who survived, Charles Gilbert Stu- 
art, was "my second brother," although it would seem 
that he was the oldest child, since he was born hardly 
a year after his parents were married. The burial rec- 
ords of the girls contain an impossible figure: Agnes is 
said to have died in 1 850 at the age of seventy, which 
would mean that she was born when her mother was 
twelve years old. She may well have been the second 
child Dunlap tells us appeared in London. Emma, if 
her tombstone is worthy of credence, was born in Ire- 
land, late in 1790 or early in 1791. Jane was many 
years younger. What other babies came, lived briefly, 
and died remains a total mystery. 

As an older woman, Mrs. Stuart was usually loath 
to talk of the Irish years: It gave my mother pain/* 



IRISH VARIETIES gj 

Jane noted, "to remember anything associated with 
reckless extravagance, or what she called his folly/ 5 
When in a rarely communicative mood, she would 
say that her husband "was delighted with the society 
he met in Ireland. The elegant manners, the wit, and 
the hospitality of the upper-class Irish suited his genial 
temperament. . . . The gentlemen of the surround- 
ing neighborhood constituted his principal society/' 
Such statements glossed over Stuart's democratic and 
bohemian tendencies Herbert says that he made a 
point of not dining at a rich house if asked to a poor 
one but on other matters Mrs. Stuart was frank: 

ec l am sorry to say that Stuart entered too much into 
their [his friends'] convivialities. The fact is that it was 
his misfortune, I might say his curse ... to have 
been sought after by society. . . . The consequence 
was that he gave dinner parties as was the fashion of 
the day. . . . 

"After one of these dinner parties, composed of 
some of the wits of the day, among them the Rev, Mr. 
Best, Dean Beatson, and John Kemble, a violent dis" 
pute arose as to the possession of the truest eye. It was 
finally proposed that there should be a mark placed 
in the garden that the question might be decided by 
pistols/ 5 Stuart's reputation, it seems, enabled him to 
get away with even the oldest joke, for, after several 
shots had been fired, he convulsed the company by 
standing in front of the target as the safest place. 



9 8 GILBERT STUART 

Between parties and portrait sittings, Stuart tried 
to find surcease for his tortured nerves in tending his 
little farm. Planting the rich soil, watching the un- 
hurried growth of flowers, he forgot for a little while 
the dissatisfaction of his spirit. There in the rural land- 
scape, the world of fame and fashion seemed as unim- 
portant as a dream. He could relax a little. 

When Herbert visited Stillorgan, he found Stuart 
before the house, tending some flowerpots. "He then 
took me to his garden, which was well-cropped, all by 
his own hands, walked me over the grounds, and 
pointed out his skill in farming. ... I cordially 
confessed that I should rather see his works in his 
painting-room, that I was ignorant of farming, garden- 
ing, or feeding pigs. He pitied me very much, observ- 
ing what a loss I sustained by not attending to the cul- 
tivation of that on which mankind were supported 
and rendered wealthy and powerful. 9 * Herbert found 
that the artist was more pleased by praise of his "very 
pretty pigs" than by "anything I could say in praise of 
his pictures." 

When Stuart's ever mounting debts made it seem 
expedient to flee from Ireland, he played one last trick 
on the gentlemen who had been his companions and 
patrons. He began many pictures which he had no 
intention of completing, demanding the usual half- 
payment at each first sitting. "The artists of Dublin/* 
he told Herbert, "will get employment in finishing 



IRISH VARIETIES 99 

them. You may reckon on making something hand- 
some by it, and I shan't regret my default when a 
friend is benefited by it in the end. The possessors will 
be well off. The likeness is there, and the finishing 
may be better than I should have made it.* 

Stuart had promised to go to London, where sev- 
eral commissions awaited him, but at the last moment 
he changed his mind; perhaps he discovered his cred- 
itors were awaiting him too. He set sail with his family 
to New York. 



IOC 



CHAPTER SEVEN 

THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL 

AT the moment of his leaving Ireland, Stuart stepped 
into the realm of legend, for he had started on the 
journey that was to end with the most famous pictures 
in American history, his portraits of Washington. Stu- 
art's Washingtons haunt us all from the cradle to the 
grave; they stare at us from primers and posters and 
postage stamps; indeed, it is these canvases, not the 
hand of God, which determined how the father of 
their country would look to most future Americans. It 
has often been pointed out that, should Washington 
return to earth today, he would be regarded as an im- 
postor if he did not look like Stuart's portraits. 

Since the figure of Washington the cherry-tree 
Washington which is pounded into every school- 
boy's brain is as mythological as Prometheus, it is nat- 
ural that a full-blown mythology should surround the 
hero's most famous likenesses. It is authoritatively re- 
ported, for instance, that Stuart nobly gave up a bril- 
liant European future because of a patriotic desire to 
preserve the features of the man in the world he most 
admired. We know that Stuart was driven from the 
British Isles by debt. Stories he himself told do not 
reveal deep admiration for Washington; he appears to 



THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL 101 

have been incapable of venerating any man, even his 
beloved benefactor West. 

It is true, however, that the idea of painting Wash- 
ington was partly responsible for Stuart's return to 
America. Harassed by debt, casting around for a new 
source of income, he remembered that the President 
was one of the most popular men in the world. "I ex- 
pect to make a fortune by Washington alone/' he told 
Herbert. "I calculate upon making a plurality of por- 
traits, whole-lengths that will enable me to realize; 
and if I should be fortunate, I will repay my English 
and Irish creditors/* Upon several other occasions he 
spoke of the large sums he hoped to make from an en- 
graving after a popular portrait of the Father of his 
Country. 

The Stuart family were accompanied on their trip 
to America by a miniaturist, Walter Robertson. This 
son of a Dublin jeweler was to do a brisk business 
copying life-size Stuart portraits onto small chips of 
ivory that could be carried, like a modern snapshot, 
in locket or pocket. The two men got bored on the 
boat, drank too much, and once, after he had been in- 
sulted by Stuart, Robertson reeled to his stateroom for 
pistols, and returned demanding a duel. The captain 
separated the painters, who, on the following morn- 
ing, resumed their friendship. 

When he reached New York late in 1792 or early 
in 1793, Stuart rented a house in the fashionable sec- 



ioz GILBERT STUART 

tion, on Stone Street, large enough to hold both his 
family and a painting-room. The method he had used 
in England to attract patrons, hanging his own show 
in a private gallery., was unavailable to him, since 
every portrait he had painted in England and Ireland 
had been sold; he had brought home with him no 
samples of his style. However, his reputation had trav- 
eled before him, in particular to two Irish-American 
merchants, George and Hugh Pollack, whose sister 
Stuart had painted in Dublin. They may well have 
lent him money; they certainly ordered their portraits. 
When George visited Philadelphia in November 
1794, Stuart gave him a letter to Joseph Anthony 
saying that he owed more to the Pollacks "than the 
world beside." His hope that his relations would find 
his patron agreeable was more than accomplished, for 
within sk months George Pollack was married to Stu- 
art's cousin Martha Anthony. 

After a few of the blank canvases Stuart had un- 
doubtedly brought with him, since artists 3 supplies 
were not manufactured in the United States, blos- 
somed into likenesses of New Yorkers, he was be- 
sieged with commissions, for he was the strongest 
painter to practice in America since Copley's depar- 
ture in 1774, the most sophisticated these shores had 
ever known. Even Dunlap, who had studied abroad 
with West, felt that he had "never seen portraits be- 
fore, so decidedly was form and mind conveyed/ 3 Stu- 



THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL 103 

art's talents, Dunlap continued, "introduced him to 
the intimate society of all who were distinguished by 
office, rank, or attainment/* The London diarist Far" 
ington recorded gossip that "his prices were not so 
great as he had in England/ 5 but added: "His ex- 
penses are proportionally more reasonable/* 

Eighteen years before, Stuart had left America as 
an obscure youth whose cocksureness hid doubt; now 
he returned a famous man, but little changed in char" 
acter. He felt a tremendous need to make a mighty inv 
pression. There were unpleasant memories to exorcise, 
both personal and artistic. We can only guess at the 
troubles of his childhood from the scars left on his 
character; those scars were deep. Certain it is that al* 
though Stuart lived near to Rhode Island for twenty" 
three years, he returned to the scenes of his youth only 
once, and then when he was a very old man. 

Determining to dazzle New York, Stuart tempo- 
rarily shelved his dislike of elaborate pictures. His por- 
traits of Don and Dona Josef de Jaudenes y Nebot, a 
Spanish consul and his wife, were among his most 
serious attempts to work in the aristocratic tradition. 
Virtuosity leaps from each square inch of canvas. A 
jewel is brilliantly indicated with two brush-sweeps of 
contrasting colors; the highlight on the head of the 
Don's cane is a luscious streak of yellow pigment; the 
draperies are painted crisply and surely, the textures 
indicated with brilliant economy of means. And the 



GILBERT STUART 
faces, although prettied up as is suitable in such por- 
traits* are not completely vapid. The woman is more 
than a doll, and the man even shows a little force. 
Why then are the pictures not more impressive? 

Stuart himself could have given the answer; he 
must have felt it in the very hand that placed the pig" 
ment on the canvas. He was not interested in what he 
was doing. This was an exercise, played brilliantly 
but by rote. After he had finished the pictures, he may 
well have shaken his wild head angrily and sworn: 
""Never again/* To this we can only say: "Amen/ 3 

On the other extreme is Stuart's Petrus Stuyvesant. 
Rarely has a disagreeable personality been recorded 
more truthfully. The face of the New York Croesus 
and patrician is an unhealthy, bilious red; his tiny, wa- 
tery blue eyes squint nearsightedly, and the depression 
on the bridge of his nose left by his eyeglasses is 
clearly indicated. His mouth is drawn back in an ex* 
pression of weak irritability. Perversely, as if to show 
that the clothes are finer than the man, Stuart has 
painted Stuyvesant's golden-hued waistcoat with star- 
tling brilliance. A few quick strokes with a heavily 
loaded brush reveal the crumpled but expensive cloth. 

Stuart was so much the social rage that he could get 
away with anything. Gravely and proudly, Stuyve- 
sant carried his "Stuart" home. 

During his New York period, Stuart painted Gen- 
eral Horatio Gates. Son of a duke's housekeeper in 



THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL 105 

England, Gates had entered the British army and had 
managed, by a mixture of servility and energy, to rise 
to a surprising rank for one of his low birth; he be* 
came a major. At last the tightrope he had to walk 
with his social superiors who also became his mili- 
tary superiors with the speed of light disgusted 
Gates. He retired onto a Virginia plantation. When 
his personal revolt against the British caste system 
swept him into the American Revolutionary army, he 
became not a major but a major general. He com" 
manded at the only great victory achieved by unaided 
American arms: the Battle of Saratoga. Congress was 
impressed into thinking him an abler soldier than 
Washington, and Washington accused Gates of 
scheming to overthrow him, a charge which still di- 
vides historians into bickering camps. Eventually 
Gates was entrusted with the southern army. Now the 
goddess of war turned on her former favorite; his 
troops suffered at Camden one of the worst defeats of 
the Revolution. Congress liked victors, but not losers; 
his military career was brought to an end amid charges 
of inefficiency, cowardice. In retirement and disgrace, 
the old soldier was wandering disconsolately through 
the fields of his Virginia plantation when a sound of 
martial music filled the air and Washington's army 
marched by to support the French fleet in the crown- 
ing triumph of Yorktown. 

After the war, Gates's reputation gradually 



io6 GILBERT STUART 

mended; lie became a social leader; he married an 
heiress. But the housekeeper's son was never quite 
easy as he sat with patricians in warmth and splendor 
and luxury. He would steal away from elegant com- 
pany to help inconspicuous devils who had served in 
his armies; his wife's money flowed from his purse 
into ragged pockets. Even such liberal alms could not 
quiet his conscience for long. Over the salvers full of 
sweetmeats in his dining-room black faces showed ac- 
cusingly. He freed his slaves and moved to New 
York, where he came under the brush of Stuart. 

Various conventional roads lay open to the painter. 
The most obvious would have been to show Gates as 
a warrior exulting over victories past. Or Stuart could 
have shown the slippery character who had or so 
they said schemed against Washington. Stuart could 
have exalted the democrat, or attacked the radical. He 
did none of these things, and he did all of them. 

Before us is an image as humanly complicated as a 
modern biography. Our first glance tells us that Gates 
was not happy, and that he was tired. The world and 
all its trappings are here displayed: a fine uniform; 
epaulettes; two medals, one as large as a saucer; a cere" 
monial sword. Yet all this pomp seems to mean noth- 
ing to the old, unhealthy face that shows above it. 
The shoulders sag as if under the weight of the epau- 
lettes, and the hand on the sword leans like the hand 
of an invalid on his cane. The face and the huge 



THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL 107 

medal are the two centers of attention in the picture: 
each seems a sad commentary on the other. 

The more we look at the face, the more concerned 
we become. There are good things here, and terrible 
things. Those eyes have seen angels and devils, and 
sometimes the two have waltzed together. The expres' 
sion about the mouth might be ilMmmor; or is it dis- 
couragement, or fear? The skin of the cheeks is re- 
laxed, as if the warrior no longer had the energy to 
keep his features active. 

The sense of disillusionment, of the vanity of 
worldly things, of a longing for death, which the 
picture conveys is heightened by its stylistic resent 
blance to conventional pictures expressing emotions 
exactly opposite. By making only the ^ost subtle 
changes, a copyist could transform this canvas into a 
standard likeness of a conquering hero. Smooth out 
the face a little, straighten the back, add some bayo* 
nets and smoke to the background, and presto! it 
would be done. Yet Stuart's picture is far from being 
a parody. It is a new vision based on tragic emotions 
as deep in the artist as in the sitter. 

Stuart has subdued all the colors to the red of the 
face, which is echoed by a blob of red in the sky to the 
lower left. The General stands before an open'air 
scene in which all aspects of landscape have been re-* 
duced to hints. A brown billowing at his back indi" 
cates trees. To the left, the line where earth meets sky 



io8 GILBERT STUART 

is clear, but all else Is generalized to indications of 
light. We see bands of orange-yellow and blue; un- 
even masses of muffled red and brown: these give an 
impression of earth and water which is less representa- 
tional than emotional. The painters of the future were 
to evolve theories on what Stuart did by instinct. 

During the summer of 1774 Stuart undertook a 
portrait of John Jay which he wished to be especially 
impressive, since he hoped to have the likeness of the 
popular Federalist leader engraved. He was intep 
rupted by what he called "a smart attack of fever and 
ague/' and when he returned to his easel, nothing 
came out right. "Would you believe/' Mrs. Jay wrote 
her husband on August 2, ''that Stuart has not yet 
sent me your picture? . , . He has at length re- 
sumed the pencil, and your nephew has been sitting 
with your robe for him/' 

Although Mrs. Jay considered the likeness her bus" 
band's "very self/' Stuart remained unsatisfied. Under 
ordinary circumstances he would have kept the im- 
portunate wife waiting, but he did need permission to 
make and sell the engraving. "Just as I put my pen 
aside to take tea," Mrs. Jay continued, "Mr. Stuart 
arrived with your picture. He insisted on my promis- 
ing it would be destroyed when he presented me with 
a better one, which he said he certainly would if you 
would be so obliging as to have a [life] mask made for 



THE RETXJRN OF THE PRODIGAL 109 

him. In ten days he goes to Philadelphia to take a 
likeness of the President/' 

Ever since his return to America almost two years 
before, Stuart had put off painting the portrait, from 
which he hoped to make his fortune, of the interna- 
tional hero who was so much greater than he; he con" 
tinued to procrastinate. Philadelphia, where Washing- 
ton was presiding over the federal government, did 
not see him in the ten days Mrs. Jay had mentioned. 
After a month, Stuart wrote Joseph Anthony that he 
hoped to be at the capital in three weeks. "The object 
of my journey is only to secure a picture of the Presi- 
dent, and finish yours. My other engagements [in 
New York] are such as totally preclude the possibility 
of my encouraging the most distant idea that any other 
application can have effect at present." 

Stuart never journeyed to Philadelphia for the spe- 
cific purpose of painting Washington. He stayed in 
New York until he had skimmed the cream off that 
portrait market. Then, early in 1795, he moved with 
his family and all his possessions to the fresher pastures 
of the national capital. 

He found there the most aristocratic society ever 
connected with American politics. The well-born 
leaders of the Federalist Party, who had regarded the 
Revolution as a quarrel between the British and Amer- 
ican upper classes for control over the American peo- 



no GILBERT STTJAHT 

pie, were now in power. While Hamilton organized 
the country's financial structure to nurture that prop- 
ertied minority which he considered the necessary 
backbone of all stable governments, the provincial 
aristocrats tried to establish an imitation of the British 
Court, where they could play the parts of lords and 
ladies. What if the poor devils who had starved at 
Valley Forge wondered if they had suffered for this: 
the salons of Philadelphia were full of beautiful ladies 
who thought monarchy divine. 

For the gay society of the capital was dominated 
by rich and beautiful women. How graciously they 
bowed to Federalist politicians, who bowed as gra- 
ciously back! If you looked through half-closed eyes, 
you might imagine you were in London or Versailles. 
The opposition leaders who agreed with Jefferson that 
the masses should be given a voice in government 
were rarely invited to such parties; and when they 
were, the ladies were delighted to conclude that they 
did not know how to behave. 

The most brilliant salon of this period, probably 
the most brilliant ever held in the United States, was 
presided over by Hamilton's ally and Stuart's patron 
from his London years, Mrs. William Bingham, the 
wife of the war profiteer and merchant speculator who 
was considered America's richest citizen. The beauty 
of this "uncrowned queen of the Federalist group" is 
attested to by Stuart's portraits of her. Her drawing- 



THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL in 

room was decorated entirely with furniture imported 
from abroad, as was only proper. To the pleasure of 
the other provincial belles, she introduced the foreign 
custom of having a long line of footmen announce 
arriving guests. When democrats had to be asked for 
political reasons, this sometimes led to misunderstand' 
ings. There was, for instance, the sad experience of 
James Monroe; had it been suggested that he might 
someday be President, every beautiful feminine shoul* 
der shining bare under Mrs. Bingham's chandeliers 
would have risen in horror. 

"Senator Monroe!" announced a flunky. 

The Senator looked up good-humoredly. "'Com' 
ing." 

"Senator Monroe!" echoed another flunky down 
the hall. 

"Coming as soon as I can get my greatcoat off." 

One was forced to put up with such unfortunate 
happenings for the time being, until the government 
of the United States was put on a sound aristocratic 
basis, but after that you would not even have to half 
close your eyes to believe that Philadelphia was Lon- 
don. 

Having taken a house on the southeast corner of 
Sixth and Chestnut streets, Stuart enjoyed to the full 
the pleasures of the capital. Loving, as his family cpm- 
plained, "the pleasures of the table to excess," he 
feasted in mansions, and was enchanted to see his own 



nz GILBERT STUART 

guests enjoy fine food and expensive wine which he 
bankrupted himself to serve. That Mrs. Stuart was 
present when he entertained at home it is impossible 
to doubt, although she made no recorded impression 
on the revelers. Probably she sat thinking of bills for 
necessities that remained unpaid, silent in her disap" 
proval of what she called "his folly/ 5 

Memoirs dilate on her husband's hilarious stories, 
his musical skill, his wit and courtliness. When the 
beautiful Mrs. Perez Morton, locally known as "the 
American Sappho/ 3 wrote a poem on the portrait of 
her he had painted, Stuart replied with a poem of his 
own that put Sappho's in the shade: 

Who would not glory in the wreath of praise 

Which M offers in her polished lays? 

I feel their cheerful influence at my heart, 
And more complacent I review my art. 
ICet, ah, with Poesy, that gift divine, 
Compar'd, how poor, how impotent is mine! 
What though my pencil trace the hero's form, 
Trace the soft female cheek with beauty warm: 
No further goes my power; 'tis thine to spread 
Qlory's proud ensign o'er the hero's head; 
*Tis thine to give the chief a deathless name, 
And tell to ages yet unborn his fame; 
*Tis thine to future period to convey 
Beauty enshrined in some immortal lay. 



THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL 113 

No faithful portrait now Achilles shows, 
With Helens matchless charms no canvas glows; 
But still in mighty Homer's verse portrayed, 
N'er can her beauty or his glory fade. 
No wonder if in tracing charms like thine, 
Thought and expression blend in rich design; 
*Twas heaven itself that blended in thy face 
The lines of reason with the lines of grace. 
*Twas heaven that bade the swift idea rise, 
Paint thy soft cheek and sparkle in thine eyes: 
Invention there could justly claim no part, 
I only boast the copyist's humble art. . . . 

The gaiety of his environment inspired Stuart to 
execute a series of portraits that lifts him to a high 
place among depictors of beautiful women. But even 
in such pictures he saw the human animal beneath the 
social, the sexual mask. Lovely ladies, as they some- 
times discover to their sorrow, are in the minds of the 
world an abstraction, a dream of grace and gentleness 
and charm. Stuart was not much of a dreamer. 

The best of his portraits of the American Sappho 
was found unfinished in his studio after his death. Per* 
haps he was caught with the beauty of the picture as 
it stood and resolved to keep this evidence of inspira* 
tion; perhaps the sitter found the likeness too shrewd. 
The visible brushstrokes show with what excitement 
Stuart had painted. But the poetess is hardly a classic 



ii4 GILBERT STUART 

muse; we see a social warrior, heroine of a thousand 
skirmishes in drawing-room and boudoir. At the age 
of a little more than forty, she is a fading belle, hold- 
ing off the years with the wits and arts of an able 
woman. The wisdom of experience and the coldness 
of a sharp and calculating mind have covered the fires 
that may once have flushed her cheeks with blushes 
but only to bank more violent heat within. Although 
Stuart noticed that her figure was beginning to go, he 
gave her face the fine, thin temper of a rapier. 

How Mrs. Morton must have despised that "fine, 
portly, buxom dame" the daughter of a boarding" 
house-keeper who with the tragic downfall of the 
aristocrats and the election of that dangerous Jacobin, 
Jefferson, was to step into Mrs. Bingham's shoes as the 
social queen of the national capital. From Smart's 
portrait, Dolly Madison, the Quaker lass who had just 
married her Senator, looks at us with grave, vulner- 
able eyes. If the American Sappho was a tiger, Mrs. 
Madison was a hearth'bred kitten who suspected that 
you got further in the world with purrs than with 
slashes of spikelike talons. She made friends by listen- 
ing quietly, and agreeing with soft sympathy; she 
seemed actually to admire boors like Senator Monroe. 
This was the woman who was to be amused rather 
than ashamed when the British ambassador said her 
official dinners resembled "harvest home suppers/' 
Mrs. Morton or Mrs. Bingham would have died! 



THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL 115 

Although her soft and piquant face is a little too 
heavy for modern styles, Ann Penn Allen, daughter 
of the founder of Allentown, Pennsylvania, was con" 
sidered "one of the most splendid beauties this coun- 
try ever produced/' Stuart built her portrait around 
the light blue of her eyes. That color is echoed in the 
scarf below her breasts, and re-echoed, with increasing 
delicacy, in the ribbon that binds her hair, in a touch 
on the shoulder, in the lacy band about her neck, in a 
muffled squiggle in the lower-right background. Look- 
ing closely, we see there are bits of blue everywhere: 
in the whites of the eyes, in the mottling of the flesh. 
When composing the background, Stuart amused 
himself with a cliche which had been repeated by 
generations of polite portraitists. To break their com- 
positions with an interesting vertical line, and to allow 
a play between shallow space behind the head and 
deep space elsewhere, painters from Van Dyck on had 
inserted their sitters before clifis which, two thirds of 
the way across the picture, dropped off sharply, their 
edges gracefully festooned with trailing vines or 
leaves. In Stuart's picture, a flat but variegated dark 
brown ceases suddenly in a falling line. The edge is 
coated with an irregular green ribbon which toward 
the top becomes darker and then gives way to round 
forms of green and black, touched here and there with 
orange. Beyond these shapes, Stuart picks up again 
his dominant blue note, lightening it in the center with 



n6 GILBERT 

a pink flush. We have to be familiar with the iconog- 
raphy of European art to recognize cliff, foliage,, sun- 
set sky. Stuart has stylized an old device into an almost 
abstract element of color and design. 

All through his American career, Stuart was caught 
upon occasion with the splendor of a woman. Usually 
these flashes of fire were kindled by creatures who had 
more than the agreeable coloring and soft harmonious- 
ness of youth; he admired a strong nose, firm eyes, 
and a mouth pulled a little tight by knowledge of the 
world. Sometimes pretty young things actuated not his 
admiration but his sense of humor. Never did a 
middle-aged man paint a more amused likeness of a 
brash and chirpy belle than Stuart's Mrs. Philip Jere* 
miah Schuyler, executed about 1807. 

Mrs. Schuyle/s husband was real quality: out of a 
Van Rensselaer by the mighty General Philip Schuy- 
ler. She herself came from a prominent family in 
Newburyport* All this bored Stuart, He regarded the 
twenty-one-year-old social force as a pert nincompoop 
who, by being active and cute and outrageous and im- 
portant all at once, had succeeded in having herself 
considered beautiful and intelligent and witty. We can 
see her flitting through a drawing-room, being gracious 
one moment, grave the next, sitting down at the harp- 
sichord to sing a tune with more spirit than melody, 
always eliciting praise because she was so sure she de- 
served it. Stuart accentuated the receding chin under 



THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL 117 

her full lips, the long nose; he mocked the elaborate 
ringlets. Yet he made her social triumphs believable 
too. Though shallow, the face on the canvas is bright; 
it has. nice brown eyes and great vivacity. 

As is often the case in Stuart's female portraits, the 
picture is given more than half its charm by the beauty 
of its color: a blue scarf with lighter-blue highlights 
falling off the near shoulder and wrapped around the 
far arm; a pink-and-cream face; a pearly white dress, 
all showing up brilliantly before a background that 
shades from black to luminous gray. He liked to paint 
women in blue, 

Stuart had no interest in immaturity. Buds did not 
whisper to him of innocence and springtime, nor was 
he moved by the unrealized promise of an unopened 
flower. Above all, he hated things and creatures that 
were cute. He classed children and animals together, 
almost always refusing to paint either. But it was im- 
possible to drive from his studio marriageable young 
girls such as Isabella Henderson Lenox, whose body 
was mature but whose mind had no substance that 
Stuart could catch. He did not, as Romney would 
have done, draw a lyrical vision seen through the eyes 
of an adolescent lover. He used his skill in reproduc' 
ing the appearance of reality to put down the bright 
surface coloring and the agreeable texture of the young 
woman's face. He gave her an alive expression; we 
can see that she was pretty enough to draw young 



n8 GILBERT STUART 

men like flies to honey. Yet the interior emptiness of 
the image evokes a strange sensation. This creature 
looks human, yet we have our doubts. She is a mind- 
less automaton, fashioned from hair and eyes and skin. 

Old ladies had often inspired Stuart's American 
predecessors to their happiest efforts. Copley, for in- 
stance, painted them with brilliant insight. Perhaps 
unconsciously, he realized that the women of his time, 
although often stronger-minded than their males, were 
forced during most of thek lives to hold their intellects 
in check. First they were curtsying little girls; then 
gentle young ladies blushing at the supposedly un- 
expected attention given them by men; then respon- 
sible housewives and mothers who might not damage 
family prestige by any frowardness. Only in their last 
years did women escape from thek shackles. Grand- 
mothers now, dressed with illusive demureness in lace 
caps, they pounded on the floor with their canes and 
made their males stutter before them as they reported 
with hardheaded cynicism the things that had been 
stored up in the back of the brain by those soft brown 
eyes that it was assumed had noticed nothing. Copley 
appreciated this release, gloried in it, and lovingly put 
the outrageous old beldames on canvas. 

Stuart, however, loved the prime of life; to him, 
old age was most admirable when it continued the pat- 
terns of the middle years. Under his brush, grand- 
mothers became faded belles; he admked the courage 



THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL 119 

that enabled them to continue after what he consid- 
ered the best parts of their lives were over. He saw 
not autumnal glory, but the sadness of approaching 
winter. 

Shortly after his return to America, he painted an 
aging matron in the Copley manner, perhaps inspired 
by one of his predecessor's pictures that he saw hang' 
ing on a local wall, The subject was Mrs. Richard 
Yates, wife of a partner of the Pollocks. Instead of 
urging her to defy the years, he dwelt on her old-lady's 
cap and showed her at her sewing. The conception is 
the conception of Copley, but the result could hardly 
be more different. The color, a harmony of pearly 
gray and white, is much more suave than anything the 
homegrown Colonial achieved, and Mrs. Yates her" 
self is no delighted harridan romping through her sec- 
ond childhood. As the modern critic Gordon Wash- 
burn has pointed out, this is not Little Red Riding 
Hood's grandmother; we see rather the shrewd, rapa- 
cious face of the wolf who ate Grandmother and, for 
well-calculated purposes of his own, put on her 
clothes. 

Since in those years men were encouraged to grow 
in more diverse ways than ladies, the male faces Stuart 
painted were more various than the female ones. His 
best pictures are likely to be those of men, and also his 
worst. When a merchant or dandy bored him, he 
could not, as he did with dull girls, fall back on ring- 



120 GILBERT STUART 

lets of hair and frilly costumes. He turned out pictures 
that are as uninteresting to the viewer as they were 
to him. 

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. Himself one of the most tortured and ir- 
rational of men, he realized that the basic motivation 
of angry people is not anger, of avaricious people is 
not greed. The very fact that his portraits are so pro- 
found might make them seem to the casual viewer 
uncommunicative. Study, however, will bring out the 
depth of Stuart's insight. 

William Ellery Channing, the Unitarian divine 
who went halfway toward Transcendentalism and 
then stopped, the orator whose sermons led both to 
abolition and civil war, is shown as a bodyless intel- 
lectual with tousled hair, from whose small face little 
blue eyes stare with a boldness that covers timidity. 
John Quincy Adams, son of a president and soon to 
be one himself, is a fat-faced, balding man, able but 
uninspired, with a smile both cynical and soft. His 
presidential predecessor, James Monroe, has a tired 
face, far from beauty: thick nose, small eyes, flabby 
chin. There is reluctant wisdom in the features, as if 
Monroe had looked deeper into the human spirit than 
it was wise to look, but had accepted his findings with 
tolerance slightly tinged with sadness. 



THE RETURN* OF THE PRODIGAL 

On the other side of the historian's conventional 
hierarchies Stuart depicted the arch'villain of text" 
books, Aaron Burr; writers have criticized the paint" 
ing for omitting horns and a tail. It shows a young 
man, too handsome and charming for his own good, 
whose level gray eyes reveal not cynicism, but a grave, 
questioning naivete. Perhaps in this canvas lies hidden 
the key to the Burr mystery. Were that swashbuck" 
ling trip down the Mississippi, that heated conference 
on Blennerhassett's Island, not after all the treason of 
a calculating schemer, but rather the toy of a child, a 
child who has not yet discovered the line between 
reason and fantasy? 

Although Stuart objected to elaboration of cos" 
tume, he never painted people in dishabille; nor did 
he substitute for the grandiloquent gestures he ex- 
punged the relaxations of private behavior. An eight" 
eenth"century man of the world, he was bored by 
women in their role as mothers: whether or not a 
man went home to his family seemed to him an unim" 
portant idiosyncrasy. He never bothered to paint his 
own wife or any of his own children. Stuart lighted 
personalities with the glare of Mrs. Bingham's chan" 
deliers and caught the images they threw in the great 
mirrors of society. 



Sgp I2Z gg 

CHAPTER EIGHT 

IMAGES OF WASHINGTON 

SHORTLY after his arrival in Philadelphia, Stuart had 
left his card and a letter of introduction from John Jay 
at Washington's house. He departed for a visit to the 
country, and, on his return a few days later, found 
awaiting him an invitation, signed by the President's 
secretary, for that very evening. 

Ushered unceremoniously into a large chamber 
filled with company, Stuart assumed that he was in an 
anteroom where he was to wait with his fellow guests 
for admission into the presence of the most famous 
man in the world. No one seemed to notice him until 
a tall figure separated from a group in a distant corner, 
walked over, and addressed him by name. Recogniz- 
ing Washington, Stuart was, for once, flustered. With 
affable condescension both helpful and irritating to a 
pathologically proud nature, Washington kept up an 
easy conversation until Stuart had recovered his conv 
posure. He then introduced the painter to the states* 
men and aristocrats with whom he was surrounded. 

Before Stuart departed, he secured the President's 
promise to sit; it was reluctantly given. Washington 
had been besieged by painters for years, and even dur- 
ing the making of his first portrait he had rebelled at 
the drudgery. "Inclination having yielded to impor* 



IMAGES OF WASHINGTON 123 

tunity," lie had moaned in 1772, "I am now, con- 
trary to all expectation, under the hands of Mr. 
[C. W.] Peale, but in so grave, so sullen a mood 5 
and now and then under the influence of Morpheus 
when some critical strokes are making, that I fancy the 
skill of this gentleman's pencil will be put to it in de- 
scribing to the world what manner of man I am/ 3 

As Washington's fame increased, so did the de- 
mands of the painters. In 1785, when he was sub- 
mitting to the efforts of the English artist Robert Edge 
Pine, Washington wrote: "In for a penny, in for a 
pound is an old adage. I am so hackneyed to the 
touches of the painter's pencil that I am now altogether 
at their beck, and sit like Patience on a monument, 
whilst they are delineating the lines of my face. It is a 
proof, among many other, of what habit and custom 
can effect. At first I was as impatient at the request, 
and as restive under the operation, as a colt is of the 
saddle. The next time I submitted very reluctantly, 
but with less flouncing; now, no dray moves more 
readily to the thrill than I do to the painter's chair." 

When Stuart undertook his long-delayed Wash- 
ington portrait in September 1795, he had no interest 
in depicting "patience on a monument." A skilled 
conversationalist, he relied on keeping the faces of his 
sitters animated by talking to them about their inter- 
ests. "To military men," Waterhouse tells us, "he 
spoke of battles by sea and land; with the statesman 



124 GILBERT STUART 

on Hume's and Gibbon's histories; with the lawyer on 
jurisprudence or remarkable criminal trials; with the 
merchant in his way; with the man of leisure in his 
way; with the ladies in all ways. When putting the 
rich farmer on the canvas, he would go along with him 
from seed to harvest time; he would descant on the 
nice points of horse, ox, cow, sheep, or pig, and sur- 
prise him with his just remarks in the progress of mak- 
ing cheese and butter, or astonish him with his pro- 
found knowledge of manures. . . . He had wit at 
will, always ample, sometimes redundant/ 9 

Stuart discovered that all his powers would be 
needed to bring his sitter's face alive. He complained 
that the instant Washington started to sit, "an apathy 
seemed to seize him, and a vacuity spread over his 
countenance most appalling to paint." Having rue" 
fully surveyed the iron countenance before him, $tu* 
art ventured to remark: "Now, sir, you must let me 
forget that you are General Washington and that I 
am Stuart the painter." 

"Mr. Stuart/' Washington replied politely, "need 
never feel the need of forgetting who he is, or who 
General Washington is." His face was stony as ever. 

Stuart grasped his brush harder and changed his 
attack; he resolved "to awaken the heroic spirit in 
him by talking of battles." The General looked up in 
surprise for a moment and then sank back into his 
boredom, for he had no intention of discussing mili* 



IMAGES OF WASHINGTON 125 

tary tactics with an artist. Rebuffed again, Stuart 
painted in silence for a while, but he could hardly 
bear to look at his canvas; the face that was rising be" 
fore him was dead, though firm and powerful; he felt 
he had not got even a glimpse of Washington's real 
character. With the energy of despair, he set his facile 
tongue moving on the republican days of antiquity; 
like an angler using different flies on a wary trout, he 
dangled Cincinnatus in front of Washington, and 
Brutus, and the noble Cato. But to no avail. 

Thus the sittings passed. On only one recorded 
occasion did the painter strike a spark from the Gen- 
eral. As Stuart was allowing his tongue to idle on, no 
longer in hopes of rousing his sitter, but merely to 
keep the silence down, he launched on an old and 
hoary joke. He told the President how James II, on 
a journey through England to gain popularity, ar- 
rived in a town where the Mayor, who was a baker, 
was so frightened that he forgot his speech of welcome 
and stood there stammering. A friend jogged the 
Mayors elbow and whispered: "Hold up your head 
and look like a man/ 5 When Stuart told how the 
flustered baker had repeated this admonition to the 
King, Washington's stern face unbelievably broke 
into a smile. But before Stuart could lift his brush, the 
smile was gone. 

According to that rival painter Trumbull, "Mr. 
Stuart's conversation could not interest Washington; 



iz6 GILBERT STUART 

lie had no topic fitted for his character; the President 
did not relish his manners. When he sat to me, he was 
at his ease/' This statement, influenced though it was 
by jealousy, probably contained some truth, since 
Stuart's exaggerated talk and showy erudition may 
well have displeased the old, tired statesman, among 
whose great virtues were love of truth and dislike for 
vain show. 

Stuart could not keep from making Jokes about the 
hero, even to the hero's wife. While he was painting 
Washington, Charles Willson Peale, the doting pa- 
triarch of a large family of painters, also secured a 
promise of sittings. He laid a trap for the President. 
Once Washington was well seated before his easel, 
the door opened noiselessly, fames, Rembrandt, and 
Raphaelle Peale tiptoed in one by one and put up 
their easels. "I looked in to see how the old gentleman 
was getting on with the picture/' Stuart later told his 
pupil John Neagle, "and to my astonishment I found 
the General surrounded by the whole family. They 
were peeling him, sir. As I went away, I met Mrs. 
Washington. 'Madam/ said I, 'the General's in a 
perilous situation/ 

"How, sir?' 

C c He is beset, madam. No less than five upon him 
at once. One aims at his eye; another at his nose; an- 
other is busy with his hair; his mouth is attacked by 
the fourth; and the fifth has him by the button. In 



IMAGES OF WASHINGTON 127 

short, madam, there are five painters at him, and you 
who know how much he suffered when only attended 
by one, can judge of the horrors of his situation/ * 

Such banter must have displeased the patrician 
lady, who, when she found a grease spot on the wall 
behind a chair, accused her niece of entertaining "a 
filthy democrat/* 

When Stuart's portrait of Washington was shown 
in Philadelphia, it was highly praised, although Stuart 
himself felt it a failure. We can get some idea of the 
effect he had wished to achieve from the word picture 
he gave of the President: "There were features in his 
face totally different from what I had observed in any 
other human being. The sockets of the eyes, for in- 
stance, were larger than what I ever met with before, 
and the upper part of the nose broader. All his fea- 
tures were indicative of the strongest passions; yet like 
Socrates his judgment and self-command made him 
appear a man of different cast in the eyes of the 
world/ 5 

Despite his dissatisfaction with his picture, Stuart 
took advantage of the financial opportunities it offered. 
Keeping possession of the original, so that no one else 
could make and sell copies, he himself made some fif- 
teen copies which he sold for substantial sums. These 
canvases, which show the right side of Washington's 
face, are known as examples of the Vaughan type, 
since the first to be engraved was that taken to Eng" 



GILBERT STUART 
land by Samuel Vaughan, an American merchant 
resident in London, and reproduced as an illustration 
in Lavater's Essays in Physiognomy. 

While turning out his Vaughan portraits, Stuart 
agitated for another chance to paint the President. In 
April 1796 his opportunity came through Mr. and 
Mrs. William Bingham, who persuaded Washington 
to stand for a full-length they wished to give the fa- 
mous British Whig, Lord Lansdowne. "It is no- 
torious," writes Washington's adopted son, G. W. P. 
Custis, "that it was only by hard begging that Mr. 
Bingham obtained the sitting/' 

Stuart had not painted a heroic fulMength since 
he had mocked the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and 
his interest in doing such a picture now was inspired 
not by his esthetic sense but by social and financial 
pressure. At heart, he felt the mode silly, as his com" 
ments on David's portrait of Napoleon show: "How 
delicately the lace is drawn! Did one ever see richer 
satin? The ermine is wonderful in its finish. And, by 
Jove, the thing has a head!" 

Even the most temperate artist has difficulty execut- 
ing well a painting in which he does not believe; Stu- 
art was far from temperate. Combining his memory of 
pictures he despised with imported engravings which 
he thought of as trash, he worked out a composition 
containing a vastly over-elegant chair bearing the seal 
of the United States, the heavily carved leg of an 



IMAGES OF WASHINGTON 129 

even more elegant table, beautifully bound books, 
three fat marble columns, a completely irrelevant mul- 
berry curtain with gold cords, and a sunset sky em* 
bellished with a rainbow. Thus armed, he waited for 
the promised sittings. 

"Sir/* Washington wrote Stuart, on April n, 
1796, "I am under promise to Mrs. Bingham to sit 
for you tomorrow at nine o'clock, and wishing to 
know if it would be convenient for you that I should 
do so, and whether it would be at your house (as she 
talked of the State House), I send this note to you to 
seek information/' 

Wherever Stuart set up his easel, Washington ap- 
peared before it wearing a set of false teeth that pulled 
the lower part of his face out of shape. They fitted so 
badly that he used them for only a short time, but it 
was the time of the Lansdowne portrait. Not only did 
the distorted mouth bother Stuart; he was puzzled 
how to make the General's figure look heroic. He 
complained that Washington's "shoulders were high 
and narrow, his hands and feet remarkably large. He 
had aldermanic proportions, and this defect was in- 
creased by the form of the vest of that day/' 

Stuart mourned Washington's misshapen jaw, yet 
put it into the picture exactly as he saw it, although he 
knew this would mar the heroic effect toward which 
his composition was aimed. His motives are hard to 
analyze. The false teeth were a temporary blemish, 



130 GILBERT STUART 

and they could not be considered a primary indication 
of character. They revealed more about Washington's 
dentist than about Washington. And certainly Stuart 
was skillful enough to paint them out; to show the 
mouth as it had been when its own teeth held the lips 
firm and true. This would not have been considered 
flattery or faking by Stuart's contemporaries, but rather 
"realistic' 5 as they defined realism. 

According to the neo-classical point of view then 
dominant, it was a painter's duty to recognize and ig- 
nore "the accidents of nature/' those chance configura- 
tions that would vanish in an hour or a decade; the 
painter was required to record a permanent, a "uni- 
versal" image. Portraitists did not immortalize a man's 
hangover if he came to the studio too early in the 
morning, or even the pallor of a sickness that could be 
expected to pass. Three generations later, a school of 
painters was to shock Paris by trying to catch the fleet- 
ing moment, by depicting forms with an immediate 
rather than a generalizing vision. The Impressionists 
had a major fight on their hands before they could 
convince the connoisseurs that this was not humbug 
and idiocy. 

That Stuart's adherence to the exact image before 
him at the moment of composition anticipated esthetic 
theories of the future did not mean that his conscious 
motivation was esthetic: it was probably documen- 



IMAGES OF WASHINGTON* 131 

tary. When he painted lesser men than Washington, 
he was more inclined to seek an artistic synthesis. He 
may well have thought of his canvas as a record that 
would accompany the hero's fame down through the 
ages. Functioning as a historian, he should not edit or 
bowdlerize. And, amazingly, the public regretted the 
false teeth as Stuart had done, but did not ask him to 
paint them out. Parson Weems and his cherry tree 
were in the future. The Americans who had just won 
a war and established a republic felt the muse of his- 
tory leaning over their shoulders, and they were nei- 
ther ashamed nor afraid of what her cool gray eyes 
saw. 

Perhaps Stuart was also swayed by a second moti- 
vation which he was not willing to admit even to him- 
self. Proud but not really self-confident, he may well 
have resented the hero who was universally consid- 
ered greater than he, who had embarrassed him at 
their first meeting, and who continued to treat him 
with the most frigid courtesy. There may have been 
anger behind the artist's depiction of that ill-shapen 
mouth. 

Stuart entrusted many of the conventional back- 
ground details, which struck him as so silly, to a sign- 
painter and naive portraitist, Jeremiah Paul. Paul, who 
was to shock Philadelphia by showing in a shopwin- 
dow his nude "Venus and Cupid, nine feet by seven, 



132 GILBERT STUART 

taken from living models/ 3 possessed a flicker of wild 
talent and a taste for liquor that rivaled Stuart's own. 
We can visualize the two, a bottle between them, 
laughing at the fat tassel that was appearing on the can- 
vas, and then Stuart, with a sudden turn of mood, up" 
braiding his assistant for lack of respect. 

Also in the room would be an ovepserious, red" 
headed young man who, as he meticulously put 
underpaint on unfinished parts of the huge picture, 
tried to ignore the squabble. Descended from a line 
of artisan painters in the Hudson River Valley, John 
Vanderlyn had been working in a New York print 
shop when he had met Stuart and had borrowed some 
portraits to copy. One had been of Aaron Burr; 
pleased with the result, Burr had placed Vanderlyn 
with Stuart. Although his slow, humorless tempera" 
ment contrasted with those of his mercuric studio" 
mates, Vanderlyn, if his later work is any indication, 
had no more sympathy than they with all the grandil" 
oquent frippery that was being painted into the pop 
trait. 

Created for money in opposition to the esthetic 
convictions of the artist and his assistants, the Lans* 
downe Washington was far from a masterpiece. How" 
ever, the heroic representation of so great a man by 
so famous a painter appeared to people who wished 
to have an obviously splashy picture to show. Stuart 



IMAGES OF WASHINGTON 133 

received many orders for copies, and since his usual 
pack of creditors was snapping at his heels, he ac* 
cepted them. He found them hard to execute. 

Before sailing to France as American minister, 
General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney paid Stuart 
five hundred dollars for a full-length to grace the em" 
bassy in Paris; it was never delivered, Timothy Pick" 
ering, United States Senator and former Secretary of 
State, wondered in 1804 whether the picture had 
ever been painted: "If it was, I think Stuart must have 
parted with it, intending doubtless to paint another 
for General Pinckney; but not having done it, gives 
no answer to his letters, because the explanation can- 
not be a pleasant one/ 5 

William Bingham sent Stuart's original full-length 
of Washington to Lord Lansdowne on October 29, 
1796. Hoping to "rescue myself from pecuniary em" 
barrassment and to provide for a numerous family at 
the close of an anxious life" by having the picture re- 
produced for the world market by an expert English 
engraver, Stuart, so he always insisted, had asked 
Bingham to stipulate that no unauthorized copy be 
made. Bingham agreed, but did not keep his agree- 
ment; the richest man in Philadelphia preferred to 
endanger the property of the impoverished artist 
rather than cheapen his gift by attaching strings. In 
all innocence, the British peer gave fames Heath per- 



134 GILBERT STUART 

mission to reproduce the picture, remarking that Stu- 
art would certainly be gratified at having his work en- 
graved by an artist of such distinguished ability. 

After Stuart told Bingham that he had commis- 
sioned West to find a suitable engraver, the banker 
finally acted,, but even then only indirectly. On 
June 10, 1787 he wrote Rufus King, the American 
Ambassador in London, asking him to mention to 
Lansdowne Stuart's anxiety lest the picture be pirated. 
But much of a year had passed; the picture was al" 
ready on copper. 

Stuart wrote Lansdowne a courteous request for an 
explanation what reply he received is not known 
and called on Bingham in a fury. The banker, so the 
painter told his friends, asked whether he had any 
proof in writing of a promise to preserve the copy 
right. The artist, of course, had nothing in writing, 
for it had never occurred to him not to trust Bing" 
ham's word. He stamped out of the office, refusing to 
finish a picture of Mrs, Bingham he was painting, and 
thus banished himself forever from Philadelphia's 
leading salon. 

In one of his famous anecdotes Stuart dramatized 
the arrival in America of the pirated engraving. For 
the purposes of this story, he claimed that he had been 
ignorant that the print was being made and that he 
was unknown in Dobson's Bookshop, on Philadel- 
phia's Second Street. When he called there and ex- 



IMAGES OF WASHINGTON 135 

pressed an interest in art, Dobson stated that a master- 
piece had just arrived from Europe and showed Stuart 
the guilty print. "Sir/ 3 Stuart cried, "the work is as 
infamous in execution as the motive that led to it." 

"What? Have you the feelings of an American? 
What! Do you not respect the man here represented, 
nor the talents of the American painter who executed 
the original picture? What would Mr. Stuart say if 
he heard you speak thus?" 

"It is my custom to speak the language of plainness 
and truth, whenever the character and fortune of any 
man are thus jeopardized. By this act, the family of 
the painter is ruined. My name is Stuart. I am the 
painter and have a right to speak/ 3 Stuart indicated 
what he thought every dealer should do by stating 
that Dobson nailed up the box that had just arrived 
from England, and never offered the print for sale. 

The engraving was a most inferior one, and on 
every example the author of the original was given as 
"Gabriel Stuart." "They will make an angel of me 
despite myself," Stuart would say, but before his au" 
ditors had time to laugh he would be off on an im^ 
passioned complaint that he had never made a cent 
from the print, although it was an international best" 
seller. That he had violated his esthetic convictions 
to produce the bestseller only made the upshot more 
bitter. Efforts to find redress at law came to nothing. 
His daughters remembered how, as an old man, he 



136 GILBERT STUART 

would pace back and forth, gesticulating and mutter- 
ing oaths, when the grievance came back to his mem- 
ory. Indeed, he grew to blame all the financial difficul- 
ties which his improvidence had created on this one 
flagrant injustice. 

Long before his quarrel with the Binghams, Stuart 
had found the gay society of the republican court an- 
noying. Well-born loungers seemed to be knocking 
on his door all day long, demanding admittance when 
he wanted to paint, and they were outraged if he re- 
fused to see them. Nor did he find it easy to get on 
with his sitters, for the Federalist aristocrats regarded 
painters as drones, necessary to human vanity, per- 
haps, but hardly admirable. If artists were amusing 
and had a grand air as Stuart did, they might even 
be invited to the best parties, but no one for a mo- 
ment considered them on the same level with mer- 
chants and generals and delicately nurtured females. 
When, some years later, the French sculptor M. Bi- 
non asked John Adams's advice on how to sell a bust 
portrait of Washington, the Federalist leader, who 
had been painted by West, Peale, Copley, and Stu- 
art, replied: 

Dear Sir, 

I have received your polite favour of the third of 
this month. I am afraid you are engaged in speculation 
that will never be profitable to you. The age of paint* 



IMAGES OF WASHINGTON 137 

ing and sculpture has not yet arrived in this country, 
and I hope it will not arrive very soon. Artists have 
done what they could with my face and eyes, head 
and shoulders, stature and figure, and they have made 
them monsters fit for exhibition as harlequin or clown. 
They may continue to do so as long as they please. I 
would not give sixpence for a picture of Raphael or a 
statue of Phidias. I am confident that you will not find 
purchasers for your bust, and therefore am sorry that 
you are engaged in so hopeless a speculation, because I 
believe you are a great artist and an admirable man. 

I am, sir, with sincere esteem, 
Tour most obt. humble servant, 

J. Adams 

Faced with such an attitude, Stuart carried his ar- 
tistic arrogance to an extreme. After General Knox, 
Washington's first Secretary of War, had offended 
him, he used the General's portrait as the door for his 
pigsty. He refused to continue the picture of anyone 
who dared criticize the smallest detail; he would ring 
for his man and send the canvas up to the attic, nor 
could all the tears of a lady who needed a Stuart to 
enhance her social position make him change his 
mind. When "a gentleman of estimable character and 
no small consequence in his own eyes" objected that 
Stuart's portrait of the rich but homely widow he had 
married did not make her beautiful, the artist cried: 



138 GILBERT STUART 

"What damned business is this of a portrait-painter! 
You bring him a potato and expect he will paint a 
peach/ 3 

Trott, the miniaturist, found him one day in a 
great fury. "That picture/ 3 he shouted, "has just been 
returned to me with the grievous complaint that the 
cravat is too coarse! Now, sir, I am determined to buy 
a piece of the finest texture, have it glued on the part 
that offends their exquisite judgment, and send it 
back/ 3 Once he delineated a handsome woman who 
was a great talker. When the picture was almost done, 
she looked at it and exclaimed: "Why, Mr. Stuart, 
you have painted me with my mouth open! 33 

"Madam, your mouth is always open/ 3 he replied, 
and refused to finish the picture. 

Stuart 3 s nerves had become dangerously tight. 
Shortly after completing the Lansdowne portrait, he 
moved to Germantown, a suburb of Philadelphia, 
where he installed his family at 5140 Main Street, in 
what was subsequently known as the Wister Man- 
sion. Although he received few visitors, loneliness did 
not bring him quiet. "He has the appearance, 33 an 
acquaintance wrote, "of a man who is attached to 
drinking, as his face is bloated and red/ 3 He created 
three hundred dollars 3 worth of portraits for a wine 
merchant whose taste for pictures was as strong as his 
own for Madeira, but found, when they balanced ac- 
counts, that he still owed two hundred dollars. He 



IMAGES OF WASHINGTON 139 

paid another liquor bill by painting the King of 
Prussia on horseback as a sign for Biter's Tavern. 

"Mr. Stuart," writes Philadelphia's chronicler John 
Watson, "was noted for his eccentricity and his love 
of good eating and drinking. To the latter he was 
much addicted, showing therefrom a much inflamed 
face, and much recklessness in his actions when ex" 
cited by his drink. In this he dealt in a wholesale way, 
buying his wine, brandy, and gin by the cask. On 
one occasion he was seen kicking a large piece of 
beef across the street from his house to DiehFs, his 
butcher/ 3 The meat, Stuart cried to the startled trades" 
man as he gave it a final placement through the door, 
was not fit to handle. 

Dunlap was told that a journal Stuart kept in Ger" 
mantown contained as a frequent notation, "Today 
quarreled with Tom." (Tom was his nickname for 
his wife. ) Although not sure whether to believe this, 
Dunlap considered Stuart "undoubtedly an impru" 
dent man, a bad husband and father." Trumbull 
wrote to Joseph Anthony, who was now a director of 
the Bank of the United States and richer than ever, "I 
am sorry to hear that Stuart still continues to be so 
great an enemy to himself. With his talents, poverty 
is a crime, as it can only be a consequence of idleness ." 

The engraver David Edwin, who visited him in 
Germantown, noted: "Mr. Stuart has been thought 
by many to have been harsh and repulsive in his man- 



140 GILBERT STUART 

ners: to me he never appeared so." Giving credence 
to one of Stuart's typical anecdotes, Edwin concluded 
that his social difficulties were due to his taking seri- 
ously the advice given him by the violent trial lawyer 
and solicitor-general of England, Lord Edward Thur- 
low: "If a man speaks disrespectfully of your art, 
give him battle, my boy, give him battle ! M 

During February 1801 Stuart wished immediate 
payment for a Washington portrait engaged by the 
State of Connecticut; an installment, he explained, 
was due on the "purchase of a small farm for my 
family." Once more dreaming of solace in rural quiet, 
he invested the proceeds from five whole-lengths of 
Washington and twenty smaller pictures in the prop- 
erty near Pottsgrove, Pennsylvania, which he stocked 
with imported Durham cows. He sent out the money 
as fast as he received it, and neglected to take receipts. 
When the man with whom he had been dealing died, 
there was no evidence that he had ever paid a dollar; 
he lost the whole sum, $3,442. Such lack of business 
acumen contributed greatly to the debts with which 
he was forever harassed. He could never remember 
whether pictures had been paid for, and sometimes 
enraged sitters by demanding his fee twice, or amazed 
them by refusing sums due him. If he had money, he 
was likely to mislay it; once he found a fifty-dollar bill 
in a little-used pocket. 

Yet he kept his reputation as the greatest painter in 



IMAGES OF WASHINGTON 141 

America. When Mrs. Washington wanted a picture 
of the President for herself, she persuaded her uiv 
willing husband to submit a third time to Stuart's 
brush and company. In the stone barn he used as a 
studio, the painter waited anxiously for Washington 
to ride out for the first sitting, and sighed with relief 
when he saw that the President's new false teeth did 
not distort his face so much as the old. Washington 
entered the barn with cold courtesy, sat down in the 
chair Stuart had provided, and clamped his face into 
the rigid expression he saved for portrait'painters. 
Stuart plunged into his fund of anecdote, but the face 
did not relax. 

When Stuart looked up from his canvas after a 
while, his heart almost stopped beating; Washington's 
face bore a human expression. It lasted only a few 
seconds, but by seemingly nonchalant questions Stuart 
found out what had put it there; the General had seen 
a noble horse gallop by the window. Instantly Stuart 
commented on a local horse race; Washington made 
an animated answer and his face came alive. Then 
Stuart ransacked his mind for all he knew about 
horses, and soon the two men were actually talking. 
Stuart's brush flew merrily in rhythm with his tongue. 
The conversation moved on to farming, a subject it 
had never occurred to Stuart to discuss with a com" 
mander'in'chief, and again Washington was inter" 
ested. 



142 GILBERT STUART 

Not too interested, however. Before the picture 
was finished, the President worked out a way to make 
the sittings bearable; he brought with him to the studio 
friends with whom he liked to talk: General Knox, 
with whom Stuart had not yet fought; the pretty Har- 
riet Chew. They would keep his face alive, he dryly 
explained. Stuart at last saw the genial side of the hero, 
and he happened on an expedient to make the hero 
look imperial too, as if he were commanding an army. 
All Stuart had to do was be late for a sitting. 

Stuart was delighted with the resulting picture. Al- 
though Washington had agreed to sit only so that his 
wife might have the portrait, Stuart determined to 
keep it; he felt he could make a fortune from copying 
it for all comers. He completed the face but not the 
background, and whenever Mrs. Washington sent for 
the picture, he apologetically explained that it was 
not finished. Finally she came in person, bringing the 
President along. When he fobbed her off with the 
same transparent excuse, she walked out in a huff. 
Stuart always insisted that Washington had not fol- 
lowed at once, but had whispered in his ear that he 
was to keep the portrait as long as he wished, since it 
was of such great advantage to him. An intimate of 
Washington's circle, however, reports that the Presi- 
dent was very annoyed with Stuart; that he came sev- 
eral times to the studio, demanding the picture, and 
finally said in a curt manner: "Well, Mr. Stuart, I 



IMAGES OF WASHINGTON 143 

will not call again for this portrait. When it is finished, 
send it to me." The picture was never finished. Mrs. 
Washington had to put up with a copy, which she 
told her friends was not a good likeness. 

Stuart's third picture of Washington, which shows 
the left side of his face, is known as the Athenaeum 
portrait, since it eventually came into the possession of 
the Boston Athenaeum. Whether it resembled the 
President or not, one thing is certain: it was im- 
mensely popular in its own day, and is the only rep- 
resentation of the father of their country which most 
modern Americans know. Stuart himself ceased using 
his other two portraits; he destroyed, or so he said, the 
original of the Vaughan type, and topped his copies 
of the Lansdowne full-length with the Athenaeum 
head. He kept the canvas by him all his life and, 
whenever his creditors became too importunate, 
dashed off copies to which he gaily referred as his 
"hundred'dollar bills." He sold more than seventy, 
and could have sold many more. 

Stuart's nerves were not quieted by the tendency of 
other painters to do a rushing business in copying his 
copies, either openly or with the intention of making 
forgeries. An enterprising merchant even had some 
imitations run up in Canton, China, forcing the artist 
into a lawsuit. 

Dunlap tells the following story in what purport to 
be Stuart's words: "When I lived in Germantown, a 



144 GILBERT STUART 

little, pert man called and addressed me thus: Tou 
are Mr. Stuart, the great painter? 3 

c * 'My name is Stuart, sir/ 

** 'My name is Winstanley, sir; you must have 
heard of me/ 

" 'Not that I recollect, sir/ 

*"No! Well, Mr. Stuart, I have been copying 
your full-length of Washington; I have made a num- 
ber of copies; I have now six that I have brought on 
to Philadelphia; I have got a room in the State House; 
and I have put them up; but before I show them to 
the public and offer them for sale, I have a proposal 
to make to you/ 

<t t/^ . 3 

Go on, sir. 

<c It would enhance their value, you know, if I 
could say that you had given them the last touch. 
Now, sir, all you have to do is to ride to town and 
give each of them a tap, you know, with your riding- 
switch just thus, you know. And we will share the 
amount of the sale/ 

" 'Did you ever hear that I was a swindler?* 
te 'Sir! Oh, you mistake. You know * 
" 'You will please to walk downstairs, sir, very 
quickly, or I shall throw you out the window/ " 

When the burly painter laid down his snuffbox 
and prepared for action, Winstanley decided he pre- 
ferred the stairs. 

Stuart asserted that even the full-length which 



IMAGES OF WASHINGTON 145 

adorned the White House was one of Winstanley's 
forgeries. However, that was not the common opin- 
ion, and the mystical importance that was ascribed to 
Stuart's Washingtons even during the artist's lifetime 
is shown by the care which was taken to save the pic- 
ture when the English took the capital in 1814. As 
she fled, Dolly Madison, the President's wife, com- 
manded a servant to save or destroy "the portrait of 
President Washington, the eagles which ornament 
the drawing-room, and the four cases of papers which 
you will find in the President's private room. The por- 
trait I am very anxious to save, as it is the only origi- 
nal by Stuart. In all events, don't let them fall into the 
hands of the enemy, as their capture would enable 
them to make a great flourish," 

Stuart's three life paintings of Washington were 
not among his best works, for he had undertaken what 
was for him an impossible task. He had tried to make 
votive canvases before which multitudes would fall 
down in worship; yet his own stubborn spirit was in- 
capable of worship. Even the most delicate-fingered 
phrenologist could have found no bump of reverence 
on that fierce old head. 

Although a version of the Lansdowne portrait was 
bought in 1 947 by the Brooklyn Museum for seventy 
thousand dollars, the full-lengths are dreadful pictures, 
stilted, unperspicacious, dull. The Athenaeum por- 
trait has a cameolike perfection that shows up well on 



146 GILBERT STUART 

postage stamps, yet it reveals little of that profound 
insight into character which is the glory of Stuart's 
greatest pictures. Of the three life portraits, critics 
usually prefer the more rough-hewn and less idealized 
Vaughan portrait, but even it leaves the serious stu- 
dent of either art or human nature much to wish for. 
The General's associates were by no means unani- 
mous in preferring Stuart's likeness of Washington to 
those by some of the other artists for whom the suffer" 
ing hero sat. Certain it is that Stuart worked under a 
great disadvantage, for by 1790 Washington's splen* 
did physique had begun to break down. The dashing 
commander of Revolutionary days was a tked old 
man, who had been drafted for the Presidency against 
his will. He complained that every act of his admin- 
istration had been grossly misrepresented, "and that 
too in such exaggerated and indecent terms as could 
scarcely be applied to Nero, a notorious defaulter, or 
even a common pickpocket." He was very sad. When 
Stuart had tried, by talking of battles, to make Wash- 
ington look as he had looked at Valley Forge, he had 
tried the impossible; it was a different man who sat 
before him. Undoubtedly Trumbull and Charles 
Willson Peale, who had painted Washington many 
years before, had enjoyed a better opportunity to 
show him at his best, though they were less expert 
portraitists. 



IMAGES OF WASHINGTON 147 

Stuart himself did not contend that his rendering of 
Washington was pre-eminent. "Houdin's bust,* he 
told his daughter, "came first, and my head next. 
When I painted him, he had just had a set of false 
teeth inserted, which accounts for the constrained ex- 
pression about his mouth and the lower part of his 
face. Houdon's bust [done in 1783] did not suffer 
from this defect/' 

Although Stuart's Washington^ have made his 
name a national byword, they have done great dam- 
age to his artistic reputation. His copies of his Athe- 
naeum portrait, which for patriotic reasons occupy 
prominent positions in so many museums, are for the 
most part vastly inferior to the original: some of the 
faces, indeed, seem hardly human. Impetuous and 
actuated by inspiration, Stuart was not able to imitate 
anyone successfully, not even himself. As the years 
passed, he kept altering, perhaps unconsciously, the 
shape of Washington's head; at first he made it 
shorter and squatter than in his original painting; then 
he went too far the other way and turned out a series 
of heads that were longer and thinner. Finally he be- 
came so bored that his Washingtons were merely 
superficial sketches of the features he had painted 
ad nauseum. "Mr. Stuart," Neagle wrote, "told me 
one day when we were before this original portrait 
that he could never make a copy of it to satisfy him- 



148 GILBERT STUART 

self, and that at last, having made so many, he worked 
mechanically and with little interest/ 3 His daughter 
remembered that toward the end of his life Stuart 
dashed off Washington* at the rate of one every two 
hours. 



149 



CHAPTER NINE 

FAME WITHOUT FORTUNE 

WITH the collapse of Federalist control and the in' 
auguration of Jefferson, the national capital was moved 
to the District of Columbia. Three years later, in 
1803, Stuart followed. His Philadelphia affairs 
proved so entangled that before he could leave he had 
to put them in the hands of a broker, Edward Stow. 
Not sure he would stay in the new city of Washing" 
ton, he settled his family at Bordentown, New Jersey. 

The money Stuart had left with his wife was soon 
exhausted, but no further sums came from her bus- 
band. On December 22, sixteen'year-old Charles 
Gilbert Stuart wrote Stow: "Send me the gun as soon 
as you can, as vacation has commenced, which is only 
one week, and the greatest service you can now do me 
would be to send me some powder and shot, be it 
ever so little, as Mama's circumstances are such at 
present as to be unable to let me have any money /* 

Word came to Bordentown that Stuart was in full 
employ at Washington, yet his wife, his son, his three 
daughters, and whatever shortlived baby whimpered 
in the nursery sank ever closer to starvation. Stow was 
finally accused of keeping for himself money that Stu* 
art had sent his family. The broker complained to the 



150 GILBERT STUART 

painter, and on May 15, 1804 Stuart finally got 
around to writing one of his extremely rare letters: 

"Nothing could give me more surprise and concern 
than to find that any censure should reach so sincere 
and disinterested a friend as I have on all occasion 
found you. But I feel the utmost indignation that 
should be found a being so base and impudent as to 
attack the character of my friend in the most tender 
point, and to make me an instrument for such a pur" 
pose. Truth, my dear friend, is simple but powerful, 
and I know no way to repel so infamous an attack as 
by stating it. 

"First then I never did until the present moment 
direct to you or to your care any letters containing 
money for the use of my family nor for any other pup 
pose. . . . That there were three letters, of which 
I obtained no account, containing money forty dol" 
lars each. They were directed to Mrs. Stuart at BOP 
dentown, but they never reached the post office, 
which is about two miles from my lodging. The 
weather being severe, the idle rascal who I had en* 
trusted them to had concealed them in his own box. 
Thus, sir, I hope I have removed entirely anything 
that could give either of us uneasiness/* 

Stuart enclosed a hundred dollars, promised to send 
another hundred the next day and still another the day 
following. The money was to be used to return a loan 
to a Mr. Franks, otherwise unidentified, and to meet 



FAME WITHOUT FORTUNE 151 

the grocer's bill with Boiler and Johnson which Stuart 
had been unable to pay when he left Pennsylvania. 
"This sum is more than sufficient for these debts, as I 
must insist on the deducting one hundred dollars, 
which is the price of the head of Washington which 
has been spoiled by Franks making a hole through it. 
Should any difficulty arise on this subject, Mr. [Alex- 
ander James] Dallas [the Secretary of the Treasury] 
or Mr. [Joseph] Hopkinson [Congressman and jurist] 
will, I am certain, give you their advice cheerfully 
on my account. I must beg you to make my best 
thanks to Messrs. Boiler and Jordan for their kind in" 
dulgence to me/' 

Stuart had set up his Washington studio on F 
Street, near Seventh. "I can tell you nothing new/' a 
friend wrote to Dolly Madison. "Stuart is all the rage. 
He is almost worked to death and everyone is afraid 
they will be the last to be finished. He says: 'The 
ladies come to me and say: "Dear Mr. Stuart, I'm 
afraid you must be very tired. You really must rest 
when my picture is done." 

During a trip to Baltimore, Stuart began portraits 
of Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon's favorite brother, 
and his American bride, but when Jerome conde- 
scended to him in the proper princely manner, Stuart 
slammed down his brushes and refused to finish the 
pictures. Years later his pupil Thomas Sully acciden- 
tally stepped on a canvas tossed onto the floor of Stu- 



1 52 GILBERT STUART 

art's lumber room. "You needn't mind/ 3 said Stuart. 
"It's only a damned French barber/* Sully remembers 
that "Stuart had a beautiful picture of Jerome's beau" 
tiful wife, which he refused to give up, threatening 
that if he was bothered any more about it, he would 
put rings through the nose and send it to any tavern" 
keeper who would hang it up. He would have done 
it too, for he was not a man to flinch from anything 
of that kind." 

When he was painting Dolly Madison's sister, 
Mrs. Anna Cutts, the lively young woman got into an 
argument with him about what features were most ex" 
pressive of character; she supported the eyes and 
mouth, Stuart was for the nose. Before the next sitting, 
he painted into the background of her portrait a 
brownish column, the base of which jutted out like 
his own chin, and a green curtain protruding halfway 
across the picture and draped into a caricature of his 
own tremendous nose. The joke having evoked the 
laughter of his sitter, Stuart prepared to paint it out, 
but she would not let him. It is a final proof of how 
suave was Stuart's style that the comic profile is so 
assimilated into the composition that it in no way de- 
tracts from the overall effect. 

Whatever Mrs. Stuart may have thought of her 
husband, the ladies of Washington found him greatly 
entertaining. In June 1804 Mrs. Madison wrote Mrs. 
Cutts that he "has now nearly finished all his portraits 



FAME WITHOUT FORTUNE 153 

and says he means to go directly to Boston, but that is 
what he has said these two years; being a man of 
genius, he of course does things differently from other 
people. I hope he will be here next winter, as he has 
bought a square to build a 'temple' upon/' 

Stuart did spend the next winter in Washington, 
but in the spring of 1 805 he finally succumbed to the 
persuasion of the Massachusetts Senator, Jonathan 
Mason. Having visited his family at Bordentown, he 
proceeded alone to Boston, where he stayed at Cham- 
potin's Hotel on Summer Street. "I saw him there/' 
wrote Dunlap, "both in the painting-room and at the 
dinner table. His mornings were passed in the first, 
and too much of the remainder of the day in the sec- 
ond." He was forced to borrow money from a mer- 
chant, Thomas L. Winthrop, to establish himself, 
but soon he had, in the words of the miniaturist 
Charles Fraser, "all the beauty and talent of Boston 
under his pencil/' Delighted with his prospects, he 
took a house on Washington Street to which he 
brought his family. 

Political controversy soon raged around him. 
"Samuel Parkman, Esq.," the Boston Columbian 
Centinel reported on March 5, 1806, "has presented 
to this town an elegant full-length portrait of the im- 
mortal Washington, copied from the painting of the 
celebrated Stuart, with a request that it may be placed 
in a conspicuous part of Faneuil Hall, when the [res- 



154 GILBERT STUART 

toration of the historic] hall is completed, which will 
be by June next/ 3 

Parkman, a prominent Federalist merchant, made 
the actual presentation at a Town Meeting on March 
10. The Federalists applauded the picture, but a 
Jeffersonian, the stucco-worker Joseph Baston, "ex- 
pressed my dissatisfaction with it." He demanded an 
original painting: a mere copy, he stated, was un- 
worthy of the community. This produced cheers 
from the Jeffersonians, and an angry retort from the 
moderator that Baston should "never be employed as 
a mechanic in the town of Boston again/" The meet- 
ing adjourned until the twelfth. 

On that date the Federalists used parliamentary 
procedure and abuse to silence Baston. "I had deter- 
mined to express myself more fully on the subject/* 
he wrote, "but this was disagreeable to the moderator, 
and still more to the paper skull of Mr. [Ebenezer] 
Clough [a paper-manufacturer], who insisted that for- 
eigners had no business to come there 'bull-ragging/ 
as he called it/' Moving his "bull-ragging" to the 
press, Baston stated that the Washington portrait was 
one of the unauthorized copies which Winstanley 
had painted and then, when they did not sell, had 
tried to legitimize by asking Stuart to touch them with 
his riding-crop. After his dash for safety down Stuart's 
studio steps, Winstanley had sent two of the copies to 
the West Indies, but even in this distant market they 



FAME WITHOUT FORTUNE 155 

found no purchasers. They were returned, attached 
for freight, and finally sold at an auction, where Park- 
man had picked up what the Federalists had been 
booming as a munificent gift. "It is certainly not to 
the credit of Faneuil Hall/ 5 Baston concluded, "to be 
decorated with a picture, a stolen copy by a foreigner 
from the celebrated Stewart [sic], who is at this time 
in this town, and is the only man who ever took a cor- 
rect likeness of Washington/' 

The effect of this disclosure, Stuart told Dunlap, 
"was electrical and spread through the town/ 9 Ragged 
Jeffersonian urchins ran hooting behind Parkman's 
well-appointed carriage; the Federalist aristocracy 
were besieged by a wave of vulgar mirth. Finally, re- 
treat was decided upon; Parkman was advised to buy 
from Stuart an authentic full-length of Washington 
for presentation to the city. 

"How much will it cost?" Stuart quoted him as ask- 
ing ruefully. 

"Six hundred dollars, perhaps." 

"Five and six are eleven/* Parkman objected, 
thinking of what he had already paid for the Win- 
stanley copy. 

"Something must be done, and quickly/ 3 

"But how can I call on Mr. Stuart after this af- 
fair?" 

"We will negotiate the matter/ 5 

A delegation, including Isaac P. Davis, the rich 



156 GILBERT STUART 

merchant who was Stuart's most intimate patron, 
called on him. When it was explained that the picture 
would have to be an obviously dazzling one, and 
would have to be ran up quickly the new presenta- 
tion was scheduled for July 4 the painter proved 
for once co-operative. He even agreed to make his 
nearest approach to the historical style he had shied 
away from in West's studio. Washington was to be 
shown as a general, standing at Dorchester Heights 
under a sky dark with cannon smoke, bright with 
cannon flash. The suggestion that a horse be included 
must have momentarily taken Stuart back, for he 
knew he was no animal-painter, but Davis's offer to 
have a steed brought to his studio may have touched 
his risibilities, and it occurred to him to simplify the 
problem by having the horse stand with his rump to 
the spectator in a manner that made foreshortening un- 
necessary. 

The composition decided upon, Stuart dashed off 
the huge canvas ten feet by seven in nine days. It 
has been pointed out that the horse is the most wooden 
since Troy, and indeed Washington at Dorchester 
Heights is one of Stuart's least successful pictures. Nor 
was it as financially rewarding as he had hoped. He 
complained to Dunlap that Parkman "paid me in 
undercurrent banknotes which I had to send to a 
broker to be exchanged." 

Although Stuart had hurried to the rescue of the 



FAME WITHOUT FORTUNE 157 

Federalists, he was not their convinced partisan. He 
had undoubtedly regretted the diminution, when the 
Jeffersonians came into power, of that Georgian ek' 
gance which appealed to one side of his temperament, 
yet the Republican leaders had treated him with less 
arrogance than their predecessors. Unlike Washing" 
ton, who had shown him only the most formal COUP 
tesy, Jefferson had invited him to stay at Monticello 
if he ever visited Virginia; Dolly Madison, the Re" 
publican hostess, had been his constant friend, never 
stabbing him in the back the way the Binghams had 
done. 

As his departure to England at the outbreak of the 
Revolution had indicated, politics seemed of so little 
importance to him that it was one of the few direc" 
tions in which he was willing to compromise for 
worldly advantage. He cultivated the Bostonians most 
able to pay his fees; the majority were Federalists. 
Yet he did not commit himself to their party as long 
as it remained possible to take no stand. Waterhouse, 
who was a leader of the local Jefiersonians, writes that 
Stuart 'Vindicated me at the dinner and supper tables" 
of the conservatives "amidst their toasts and insults/ 3 
However, when the War of 1 8 1 2 fanned the outrage 
of the New England aristocracy into plans for seces 
sion from the Union, "the current ran so strong that 
Stuart thought it to his interest to yield to it." This 
caused a second break between the boyhood cronies. 



158 GILBERT STUART 

Although Stuart was always fighting with some" 
one, he lived in a sea of people, as a journal he kept 
in 1808 reveals. Here are entries for two typical days 
Monday, April 25, and Wednesday, April 27 
with the first names of persons added whenever they 
can be ascertained with any chance of correctness. 
The meaning of the X's and numbers Stuart included 
is not clear, 

M. 25 Miss Charlotte *| 

Morton > Disappointed me n 

Miss Caroline Knox } 

Rubbed in Mrs. [John Clarke] Howard's and Mrs. 

[Benjamin] Bussy's background 

Rubbed in Col. [Isaac P.] Davis 9 drapery 

State Street altered, Mr. [Nathan] Appletons en* 

gagement. Mr. and Mrs. [Patrick] Qrant, with a lady 

and gentleman from N.Y. 

Caught in the rain at Seymours [Furniture] Ware* 

house. 

W. 27 Col. Boyd, Mr. [Samuel] Dexter and Miss 
E. Morton 3C 1 1 

Mr. *T[homas] H[andasyd] Perkins X Dr. [Sam* 
uel] Danforth, Mr. [James] Qreenleaf 3C 

Mr. McQee Mrs. Morton Mr. [Jeremiah] Allen 
with a British officer State Street walked in the 
Mall with H[enry] Sargent [a painter] Dr. Dixs 
house 



FAME WITHOUT FORTUNE 159 

Mrs. [Anne Catherine] Powell and Miss [Julia 
Maria] Murray 3C Stackpole and Qay 3C 
Mr. [Ralph] Shaw evening is to tune my harpsi* 
chord. 

Stuart's love of music was as strong as ever. Sully 
praised "his execution on an organized pianoforte very 
highly/' and another visitor reported that he had a 
small organ on which he "played several old-fashioned 
tunes with much feeling and execution/ 3 To cater to 
this passion was the best avenue to his good graces. 
"I called to see Mr. Stewart/' a Boston matron., Mrs. 
Charles Davis, wrote in 1809. "Found him in one of 
his happiest humors, and with a little flattery, which 
we all like at times (and a song Catherine had copied 
for him), we made him promise to have my father's 
[Benjamin Bussy's] portrait finished in a month from 
this time. I told him I should pursue him like his own 
shadow until he completed it." 

Boston gossip, as reported by an aunt to Stuart's 
old disciple Mather Brown, dwelt eternally on the 
number of pictures he had in his studio unfinished. 
The rumor ran that it took Stuart three years to finish 
a portrait: "He is indeed very eccentric. He loves a 
cheerful bottle and does no work in the afternoon. He 
is very dilatory. . . . There is no economy, of 
course. He is said to be poor." 

For no apparent reason, Stuart refused lucrative 



160 GILBERT STUART 

commissions. Although the fifteen thousand dollars 
which the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts 
offered him for a copy of the Lansdowne Washington 
was more than he had received for the original he 
never answered their letter. When New York City 
asked him to paint full-lengths of heroes of the War 
of 1812, he did start one of Isaac Hull. Months 
passed with no further word of the picture. Finally 
Sully, guessing at the trouble and grateful to Stuart 
for instruction, offered to paint in the details, draperies, 
and accessories. His letter also was not answered. 

John Quincy Adams wrote Copley in 1 8 1 1 that 
Stuart had agreed to make a portrait of John Adams 
for the legislature of Massachusetts: "He actually took 
a likeness of the face. But Mr, Stuart thinks it the pre- 
rogative of genius to disdain the performance of en-* 
gagements, and he did disdain the performance of 
that." 

The Roman Catholics of Boston offered Stuart two 
hundred dollars to paint the Reverend Dr. Taylor of 
the Ursaline Convent in Charlestown. Stuart deliv- 
ered a picture he had not bothered to finish and de- 
manded three hundred dollars. Only when the Cath- 
olics refused to give him a cent did he amend the 
canvas, making it "a fine one/' Dunlap, who received 
this anecdote from Stuart's friend, the journalist Sam- 
uel L. Knapp, commented that Knapp and Stuart's 



FAME WITHOUT FORTUNE 161 

pupil James Frothingham agreed that the great artist 
was "a passionate man and a great liar/' 

In a biographical sketch he himself published, 
Knapp attributed Stuart's faults to "irritable nerves 
and delicate fibres: . . . diseases of the physical na- 
ture/ 3 

Knapp noted that if one of "the choice spirits who 
surrounded him" dared hint at a defect in a portrait, 
Stuart would resent it, even if he made the improve- 
ment: but he saved his real fury for sitters. Should a 
member of the public, however exalted his station, 
offer even the mildest suggestion, Stuart parried the 
first attempts with delicate sarcasm or a sneer; then he 
turned on his patron "with that appalling directness 
that either produces silence or a quarrel/' 

Stuart, Knapp continued, had no respect for the 
ordinary business of life and the people who transacted 
it; he mocked the conventional virtues of prudence 
and thrift, reserving his admiration for "commanding 
talents in literature and art/ 3 Nor did all kinds of art" 
ists meet with his approval. He despised painters who 
became skillful through hard work rather than bril' 
liance. Copley, Stuart remarked, put more labor into a 
hand than he himself did into a whole picture, which 
only resulted in making Copley's flesh tones look like 
"tanned leather/* In examining pictures, Stuart sought 
signs of genius, A man, he said, should not try to 



i6z GILBERT STUART 

"come among the prophets" unless he was touched 
with divine fire. 

"Stuart's word in the art is law," wrote John Neal, 
"and from his decision there is no appeal" When 
Washington Allston, America's first truly romantic 
painter, settled in Boston after a brilliant European 
career, even he deferred to Stuart. Allston had brought 
with him from London a huge Biblical canvas, Eel" 
shazzar's Feast, which was almost finished. So great 
was his reputation that the American connoisseurs 
could hardly wait for the exhibition of what was al" 
ready known as "The Great Picture." Given a private 
view, Stuart made a devastating criticism. The 
younger artist started to repaint. It was the tragedy of 
Allston's life, and one of the strangest stories in the 
annals of American art, that he was never again able 
to bring near to completion this picture for which the 
public clamored eagerly and with growing puzzle' 
ment decade after decade. Allston became so sensitive 
about his failure that he made workmen whom he was 
forced to admit to his studio walk backward lest they 
glimpse even a corner of the vast canvas. Not till 
after Allston's death in 1843 did any eyes but the 
painter's own see what he had achieved. Then a com- 
mittee of Boston's leading intellectuals tiptoed into 
the empty room, pulled back the curtain, and were 
confronted with a confused and pitiful wreck. The 



FAME WITHOUT FORTUNE 163 

principal figure had been blotted out with, a covering 
of dark-brown paint. "That/ 5 said Richard Henry 
Dana, Sr., "is his shroud/ 5 

Although Stuart's criticism had started off this de- 
scending spiral, it was, of course, only one of many 
factors that produced the tragedy. Prophesying that 
the picture would never be completed, Stuart had ex- 
plained that Allstons mind grew so rapidly "that the 
work of this month or year was felt to be imperfect the 
next, and must be done over and over again or greatly 
altered, and therefore could never come to an end. 33 
Yet it is significant that this younger man, who worked 
in a different style and was himself to become in turn 
the artistic dictator of Boston, was so impressed by 
Stuart that a word from the aging portrait-painter 
could throw him from the highroad into the under- 
brush of endlessly unsatisfied experimentation. 

Allston and Sully once examined a Stuart portrait 
together. "I may commit myself and expose my ig- 
norance/ 3 said Sully, "but, in my opinion, I never 
saw a Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, or Titian to 
equal it/ 3 

Allston replied: "I say all combined never 
equaled it/ 3 

Such adulation encouraged Stuart to paint exactly 
as he pleased. Making with increasing reluctance any 
concessions to the international portrait style, he con- 



164 GILBERT STUART 

centrated on depicting character in faces, and tended 
to throw everything else overboard. Although he 
could still reveal laces and fabrics and jewels expertly, 
with a few quick strokes of the brush, he usually did 
not bother. He was able to carry his brilliance over 
into a territory from which brilliance is often out" 
lawed: into extreme simplicity. When painting the 
wealthy merchant David Sears, he placed the figure 
asymmetrically on the canvas, the swell of the body to 
the left justifying the position of the head. The rough 
contour of the young man's curly hair echoes the out- 
line of the crisply painted ruffle on the breast. A gray 
background shading to brown shows off delightfully 
the hair's chestnut hue, the flesh tints, the white linen, 
the black coat. This is a beautiful picture, finished in 
every detail, and furthermore it satisfies to perfection 
Stuart's ideal of emphasizing not accessories but the 
likeness itself. 

Too often during his Boston period he lacked the 
patience to create such well-rounded and thought-out 
pictures. After he had painted the features carefully, 
he added the body any old way, in a dash of irrita- 
tion. Or he entrusted it to an assistant. Among his 
most impressive later pictures are several he aban- 
doned before they were completed. Washington All" 
ston is an example: the quick, profound rendition of 
the over-sensitive face is surrounded with black can- 
vas, which, although it does not add to the image, does 



FAME WITHOUT FORTUNE 165 

not detract as a carelessly executed torso and back" 
ground would have done. 

At Boston, as in Philadelphia, Stuart's favorite 
drapery-painter shared his own wild temperament. 
He was so fond of John Ritto Penniman that he al- 
lowed the young man to make a tracing of his most 
valuable asset, the Athenaeum Washington. An orna- 
mental painter normally dedicated to signs and militia 
banners, Penniman would tackle anything: a land- 
scape, six feet by three, for the Columbian Lodge; a 
tremendous Last Supper. What the Boston Saturday 
Evening Qlobe called "the eccentricities of genius 3 ' 
brought him at last to bankruptcy, and he served time 
in prison. 

Stuart also relied for assistance on the beginners 
who called at his studio, begging instruction. Since 
there was no art school in the United States that ade- 
quately taught painting, the knocks on his door were 
frequent. He demanded that each caller bring him a 
sample picture, or, if far from home, paint one for 
him to see. His object, as he explained to the Pennsyl- 
vania-Dutch tinware-decorator Jacob Eichholtz, was 
to make sure his visitor was "not an impostor/' Tin- 
ware-decorators who could record an image were wel- 
come, but he had no use for polite young men who 
aspired to paint but had never painted. 

A Massachusetts chaise-maker, James Frothing- 
ham, walked many miles to Stuart's studio carrying 



1 66 GILBERT STUART 

one of tis early crude efforts at portraiture. When 
within sight of the house, he hid the canvas and, so 
he later remembered, paced irresolutely. At last he 
rushed to the door and knocked. He was about to flee, 
but the door opened. 

"Your name, sir, and I will introduce you/' 

Frothingham mumbled his name. With horrifying 
speed, he was ushered into Stuart's presence. 

Stuart looked up from his painting, angry at the 
interruption, but when he saw the terrified young 
man and guessed his errand, a gentle look came on the 
lion-like face that was so rarely gentle. Having waited 
patiently for Frothingham to find his tongue and state 
his needs, Stuart said: "I will tell you anything I 
know. Have you brought a specimen of your skill ?" 

"I brought a portrait, sir. It is out of doors." 

"Bring it in, sir. We do not turn pictures out of 
doors here. Bring it in." 

Stuart put the picture on an easel next to one of his 
own, and then asked what was Frothingham's present 
employment. 

"Coach-painting, sir." 

"Stick to it! You had better be a tea-waterman's 
horse in New York than a portrait-painter anywhere." 
But Stuart made it clear that he was criticizing the eco- 
nomics of art, not the ability of the beginner. Froth- 
ingham went off the possessor of much advice and 
encouragement. Every time he finished a new portrait, 



FAME WITHOUT FORTUNE 167 

he walked it over to Stuart for criticism, and when he 
came in with his sixth, Stuart exclaimed: "You do 
not know how well you have done this!" 

William Peckham, a soldier stationed in Boston 
harbor who was to become a portrait-painter in In- 
diana, dropped in on Stuart during 1810. He was, so 
he wrote his father, "somewhat surprised at finding a 
man who seems to be so anxious for my improve" 
ment." Stuart promised "all the information in the art 
of painting gratis," and "a seat in his room as often as 
I shall call on him. He has given me a very fine piece 
of cloth, and offers me pencils and paints." 

When Thomas Sully visited Boston in 1807, 
he was already a portraitist of reputation who had 
emerged from the primitive ranks, and his tempera^ 
ment was opposite to Stuart's. (He was soon to suc- 
cumb to that fanciest of influences, Sir Thomas Law- 
rence.) Yet he wrote that "the privilege of standing 
by the artist's chair during a sitting was a situation I 
valued more, at that moment, than I shall ever appre* 
ciate any station on earth." Before the sitting was over, 
Isaac P. Davis happened in. It was agreed that Sully 
should paint Stuart's principal patron so that Stuart 
would have a portrait to criticize. Although Sully saw 
Stuart only occasionally over a period of three weeks, 
it took a trip to Europe to divorce him completely 
from the powerful influence that was so unsuited to 
his natural style. 



1 68 GILBERT STUART 

The only beginner Stuart failed to impress was, as 
far as we know, his nephew and namesake, Gilbert 
Stuart Newton. On his arrival in Boston, Stuart had 
found all the surviving members of his immediate 
family in residence there. His father, who had aban* 
doned the Nova Scotia farm for a snuff mill at Halifax, 
had died in 1793; his mother had gone to live with 
her daughter Ann, who was married to Henry New* 
ton, the Halifax collector of customs. But Newton 
died in 1802, and the two widows moved, with 
Ann's children, to Boston, where Ann established a 
girls 3 school. 

Exhibiting a taste for painting, Gilbert Stuart New- 
ton was from the age of ten given the ran of his uncle's 
studio. However, he proved no more amenable to 
instruction than his elder had been when a youth. 
After the two males had had a squabble, Mrs. Stuart 
tried to smooth things over by asking her husband if 
he did not think Newton possessed "fine talents/' 

"Undoubtedly he has/' Stuart replied, "but he is 
such a consummate coxcomb I have no patience with 
him. If I attempt to instruct him, he invariably con" 
tradicts me." 

A showdown came when Newton, especially 
pleased with a fine stroke on a picture he was painting, 
rushed into his uncle's room, flourished his brush, and 
cried: "Now, old gentleman, I'll teach you to paint!" 

"You'll teach me to paint, will you? I'll teach you 



FAME WITHOUT FORTUNE 169 

manners/' And not happening to have gout that day, 
Stuart kicked him out of the room. 

Newton found his way to Europe. He talked 
against his uncle, but behaved in the true Stuart 
manner by refusing to walk any well-trod path: he 
scorned to be a historical painter; he did not wish to 
be a portraitist. He became a genre painter and, after 
he settled in London, created some of the nineteenth 
century's earliest impressive scenes of domestic life. 
Although Newton died insane at the age forty-one, 
he has a secure if small niche in the history of art. 

Stuart's favorite pupil was Matthew Harris Jouett, 
whom he called "Kentucky 9 * for it was from that state, 
then in the extreme West, that the young man ap- 
peared in 1816. He was on his way to Europe, but 
Stuart, who twenty years before had urged Vanderlyn 
to complete his education abroad, warned Jouett to 
stay home lest his style be ruined. European painting, 
he now believed, was "at a standstill" because pictures 
were compared to old masters, not, as in the United 
States, to nature. 

When rich Bostonians talked of starting an art 
academy, Stuart killed the project with his powerful 
opposition. Trustees of such institutions, he explained, 
had more money than taste, and as for formal instruc- 
tion, it merely encouraged the incompetent. "Bye and 
bye/* he shouted, "you will not by any chance kick 
your foot against a dog kennel but out will start a 



1 70 GILBERT STUART 

portrait-painter." Stuart foresaw modern conditions 
under which you cannot by any chance step on a 
young lady's toe at a debutante party but "ouch" will 
be said by a writer or painter. 

Stuart believed that artists should draw their own 
conclusions directly from nature, and he urged this 
on his pupils, forgetting that he himself had been 
forced by failure to study in West's studio. He was 
worried when he found his disciples examining his 
own pictures "Oh, my boy/ 3 he cried to Neagle, 
"you should not do that!" but a notebook kept by 
Jouett during his four months with Stuart reveals that 
in practice his method of instruction was to show the 
young what he himself did. In explaining how he 
constructed a head, he asked his pupils to imagine a 
face reflected back and forth between a series of 
mirrors. First you placed on canvas the vague form 
seen in the third mirror. Then you turned to the sec- 
ond mirror; the features became clearer, but were still 
blurred. Finally you achieved the image in the first 
mirror, where everything was clear and sharp. 

This method of building up forms was revolution- 
ary in a day when painting was regarded as a gaudy 
annex to the purer palace of draftsmanship. Students 
in conventional studios were not permitted to pick up 
a brush until they were expert at line drawing; critics 
admired in particular correctness of outline. As late as 



1 



FAME WITHOUT FORTUNE 171 

1859, canvases by Whistler and Manet were re- 
jected for the Paris Salon because, in the words of the 
modern critic John Rewald, "they were conceived as 
harmonies of masses modeled in color without the aid 
of line/' Not until the 1870*5 did the Impressionists 
succeed in overthrowing the linear preconception 
which had dominated European art for centuries. 

However, Stuart only partially realized his original- 
ity. He told Jouett that he dispensed with line draw- 
ings because you could draw better with oil paint on 
a brush, and he repeated the neo-classical doctrine he 
had imbibed years before in West's studio: "Coloring 
is not so significant to us as drawing, and as it par- 
takes more of common mechanical employment in 
a word, is more closely allied to matter than intel- 
ligence so 'tis inferior to design. . . . Raphael, 
who was a bad colorist, for his great invention, com- 
position, expression, and design has been called 'the 
Divine/ whereas Titian [and] Corregio, who [were] 
the great colorists, [have] a reputation of limited ex- 
tent/' 

Actually, color was Stuart's principal tool. Flesh, 
he told Jouett, "is like no other substance under 
heaven. It has all the gaiety of a silk-mercer's shop 
without its gaudiness and gloss, and all to the sober- 
ness of old mahogany without its sadness." Neagle re- 
corded Stuart's statement that "good flesh partook of 



1 72 GILBERT STUART 

all colors, not mixed so as to combine into one tint, 
but shining through each other, like blood through the 
natural skin." 

In order to give flesh tones depth and texture, Stu- 
art usually blocked in the face with opaque pigments, 
which he then covered with a swiftly painted layer of 
transparent or semi'transparent hues. This technique 
enabled him to paint faces with the dash and spon- 
taneity which during his English years he had reserved 
for backgrounds. At last he could have created a com- 
plicated picture in a single, unified style, but he was 
no longer interested. 

Neagle reports: "He deliberated every time before 
the well-charged brush went down upon the canvas 
with an action like cutting into it with a knife. He 
lifted the brush from the surface at a right angle, care- 
fully avoiding a sliding motion. He always seemed 
to avoid vexing or tormenting the paint when once 
laid on, and this accounts partly for the purity and 
freshness ... of his work/ 3 

Stuart himself told Jouett: "Preserve as far as prac- 
ticable the round, blunt stroke in preference to the 
winding, flirting, whisping manner. . . . Never be 
sparing of color, load your pictures, but keep your 
colors as separate as you can. No blending, 'tis de- 
structive of clear and beautiful effect. It takes [away 
from] the transparency and liquidity of coloring, and 
renders the flesh the consistency of buckskin." He 



FAME WITHOUT FORTUNE 173 

added that the academic manner of his master, Benja- 
min West, made flesh look "wormy." 

Since Stuart laid his colors side by side, his pictures 
looked best from a slight distance. When people ex- 
amined them closely, he would cry in anger: "Does it 
smell good?" 

Although Stuart's method of putting on pigment in 
separate dots seems to foreshadow the Impressionists, 
his object was very different. Far from using contrast- 
ing hues that were to be mixed by the eye of the ob- 
server, Stuart juxtaposed colors that shaded from each 
other only a little. He denied another principle of the 
Impressionists when he stated: "My idea is as little 
colors in the shadows as you can." 

Stuart's painting-methods were too personal to com- 
municate to anyone else, too sophisticated to sink deep 
into the minds of the ingenious artisans who flocked to 
his studio. Those of his pupils who went furthest 
sought further instruction: Sully sat at the feet of Sir 
Thomas Lawrence; Vanderlyn imbibed the neo-classi- 
cism of Napoleon's Paris; Newton was less moved by 
his uncle's example than by that of the Dutch masters. 
Jouett and Frothingham, who most accurately repro- 
duced Stuart's style, translated his lyrical visions into 
a somewhat inept prose. 

The revolt Stuart sparked against aristocratic por- 
trait conceptions was more widely applicable. Anyone 
could banish elegant costumes and accessories from 



174 GILBERT STUART 

the foregrounds of pictures, and from the back" 
grounds, columns, curtains, and decorative vistas. 
Ignoring the fact that it took great skill to make such 
pictures esthetically interesting, Stuart's disciples con- 
centrated on analyzing personalities against unrepre* 
sentational graduations of color. Such images were so 
suited to the basic thinking of American democracy 
that they spread far beyond the circle of Stuart's first" 
hand contacts to dominate, for better or worse, a full 
generation of American portrait"painters. 



175 

CHAPTER TEN 

ON DESPERATE SEAS 

OLD age, which he had pitied in others, now bore 
down on Stuart too. Trying to forget the flaws and 
deficiencies of his own temperament, the unhappiness 
of his own career, he concentrated his hopes for the 
future on his son, Charles Gilbert Stuart, who he felt 
had great talent as a landscapist. But he was so afraid 
of destroying the lad's originality that he refused to 
give him any instruction. Charles Gilbert was forced 
to appeal to Stuart's other pupils for hints at second 
hand. 

From the beginning, Stuart had been worried about 
his son, who seemed to be so like himself; in the 
tantrums of the infant he had seen his own unstable 
nerves. Realizing that he had wasted much of his own 
life, he determined to save his son from the pitfalls 
into which he himself had fallen. He brought Charles 
Gilbert up with savage strictness. When the boy did 
things he saw his father do every day, his father recog- 
nized the symptoms he dreaded and flew into a fury. 
The years passed with much sternness and many beat- 
ings, until at last the young man could be controlled 
no longer. Then he threw himself into dissipation 
with more abandon than his father had ever known. 
Stuart sat up many a night till dawn, waiting for the 



176 GILBERT STUART 

front door to open, and when at last the prodigal re- 
turned, pale, feverish, so drunk he could hardly stand, 
the old man wondered if this could be retribution. 

The boy who was so like Stuart himself, so tal- 
ented, so uncontrolled, did complete at least two pic- 
tures, A Buffalo Hunt and A Poacher, that were lent 
to the Boston Athenaeum years later. For the rest, he 
wasted away under the influence of liquor and late 
hours. While his father watched in anguished help- 
lessness, he grew thinner, more drawn, till he could 
hardly stagger to the haunts of his companions. Fi- 
nally, he was too weak to get out of bed; Charles Gil- 
bert died on March 10, 1813, at the age of twenty- 
six. Although the official record gave the cause of 
death as consumption, Stuart felt that dissipation had 
killed his favorite child, and that it was all his own 
fault. The sad expression of his face grew sadder. 

The poverty his own recklessness had caused 
forced the father to bury his only son in the strangers' 
tomb of Trinity Church; the funeral procession con- 
sisted of only one carriage. Unable to bear the house 
in which Charles Gilbert had died, Stuart moved 
from Boston to suburban Roxbury. He inhabited a 
large, square structure just beyond Shawmut Avenue 
and tried, as of old, to find peace in the slow growth, 
the abundance of nature. He insisted on having cows 
and pigs. 

The most childish things amused him now. An 



ON DESPERATE SEAS 177 

irascible servant, for instance, got into such a fury with 
a cow that Molly clambered somehow up the barn 
stairs; the next morning everyone was amazed to see 
her head sticking out of the upper window. "This/' 
comments one of his daughters, "was just the kind of 
thing to divert Stuart.** He made his friends come out 
from Boston to see the cow, and was so amused that 
it took weeks of persuasion from his wife and daugh- 
ters before he would let Molly be brought down to 
earth. 

He delighted in infantile puns. "Mr. Stuart/' a 
gushing lady would cry, "that is the greatest likeness I 
ever saw!" 

"Draw aside the curtain and you will see a grater/' 

"There is no picture here/' 

"But there is a grater." He kept a snuff-grater be- 
hind the curtain on purpose. 

His dependence on snuff became notorious, David 
Edwin, the engraver, tells us that once when he was 
waiting in Stuart's drawing-room, his host entered in 
great agitation, passed Edwin without a greeting, and 
began to rummage in a closet. The visitor, who had 
experienced the painter's terrible temper, thought he 
must have offended him; he watched uneasily while 
Stuart found some tobacco, a grater, and a sieve. Al- 
though his hands trembled so violently that he could 
hardly hold his instruments, Stuart managed to grind 
some powder. After he had inhaled it noisily, his un- 



178 GILBERT STUART 

common tremor abated. Then he turned to Edwin 
with a smile. "What a wonderful effect/' he said, "a 
pinch of snuff has on a man's spirits!" 

When the Roxhury house was sold over Stuart's 
head, the new owner, Mrs. Robert Hooper, had the 
greatest difficulty getting him to leave. He was finally 
driven, in 1817 or 1818, to Washington Place on 
Fort Hill, an eminence which then overlooked the 
harbor but has since been leveled. In 1823 he rented 
from a tailor a three-story brick structure at 59 Essex 
Street. 

He would certainly have been more prosperous 
had he traveled more widely, gone again to New 
York, Philadelphia, and Washington, where a new 
generation of faces awaited his pencil; visited the other 
cities of the expanding United States. Massachusetts 
had harbored the eccentric genius so long that he had 
become boring. His incompetence in money matters, 
with its occasional overtones of chicanery; his bursts 
of temper; and that fact that the most abject begging 
could hardly secure a portrait in less than three years 
were irritations which Bostonians found it increasingly 
difficult to bear. His style no longer communicated the 
excitements of novelty, and people who found them" 
selves less impressed than when they had first seen his 
work whispered that his eye had lost its accuracy, that 
he had grown too old to paint. 

Stuart had, it is true, grown careless. When it was 



ON DESPERATE SEAS 179 

brought home to him that he was less admired than 
he had been, he would paint a portrait or two with 
special attention. In 1816 he told Jouett: "I have 
often, very often roughened my second or third sit" 
ting that I might be thrown back and, having to use 
more color, produce a richer effect. The reason why 
my paintings were of a richer character thirty years 
ago: then it was a matter of experiment. Now every" 
thing comes so handy that I put down everything so 
much in place that for want of opportunities . . . 
[I] lose the richness." 

Quality, however, was not the basic issue; many 
Bostonians would rather be painted by someone new, 
even if the result were inferior. Chester Harding, a 
physical giant from the Ohio Valley who had come to 
Massachusetts to seek advice from Stuart, was amazed 
when his own painting-room became "a place of fash" 
ionable resort, and I painted the enormous number of 
eighty heads in six months." Harding had to turn 
away an equal number of applications, while "Mr. 
Stuart was allowed to waste half his time in idleness 
, for lack of sitters. I can account for this public freak/ 3 
the lucky artist wrote, "only in the circumstance of my 
being a backwoodsman newly caught. Then the ck" 
cumstance of my being self"taught was trumpeted 
about much to my advantage. " As an older man, 
Harding considered that the portraits he had sold in 
such quantities were no more than "tolerable," and 



180 GILBERT STUART 

even in 1822, the year of their rivalry, lie considered 
himself vastly inferior to Stuart. But tie could only 
apologize to the master and Smart could only ask non- 
paying visitors to his empty studio: "How goes the 
Harding fever?" 

It was inertia,, not love of Boston, that kept Stuart 
from striking out for virgin markets. Lonely, out of 
place in the self-styled "Christian Sparta" that was pre- 
paring for a moral renaissance, he loved to recall gay 
evenings he had spent in London, in Philadelphia, 
where every good fellow had emptied four or five 
bottles as a matter of course. He irritated self-con- 
sciously cultured Bostonians ty referring to Philadel- 
phia as "the Athens of America." How sardonically 
he laughed when he could not persuade them that he 
was not joking! 

Since his son's death, Stuart's family had been en- 
tirely made up of women. In 1816 his daughter 
Emma, who is said to have been a painter, was mar- 
ried to a Mr. Stebbins, but that left Mrs. Stuart; 
Agnes, who was fast turning into an old maid; the 
adolescent Ann; and Jane, a little child. In this dove- 
cot Stuart set up a perpetually male disturbance; he 
called his wife "Tom" and Jane "Boy." Knapp noted 
that he dominated the household so completely that it 
had an aggressively masculine air. 

According to Neagle, Stuart seemed basically uiv 
happy, but he loved to converse, "had a fund of anec" 



ON DESPERATE SEAS 181 

dote, and was then cheerful/* Although he made his 
pupil feel completely at his ease, "his family/ 5 so 
Neagle noted, "appeared to fear him/* 

His youngest daughter, Jane, wrote: "Stuart had 
by nature an irritable temperament, which many 
circumstances were calculated to make still more irri" 
table. The constant interruption to which he was sub' 
jected became exasperating. . . . While he was en- 
gaged with his whole soul in portraying the character 
of some remarkable person, the door would be be- 
sieged by persons who must see him, and frequently 
for the most trifling purpose. At times he would be so 
disturbed as not to feel like going to his painting-room 
again for the whole day/* (Sully put the matter dif* 
ferently: "He was a very capricious man, and would 
never paint unless he was in the humor, although the 
way is to begin, and the humor will come after" 
wards/*) 

Her father, Jane continued, found that when he re- 
ceived all callers, he could not get his work done even 
if he stayed in his studio, without refreshment, "from 
ten o'clock in the morning until seven o*clock in the 
evening. . . . Finally, he would receive only some 
favored friend, after having been occupied in painting 
all morning. This, of course, made him enemies/* 

Jane dwelt on Stuart*s most admirable quality, that 
gentleness to the humble which was the other side of 
his anger with the proud: "Anything like adverse for" 



1 82 GILBERT STUAUT 

tune or neglected merit was sure to find a place in his 
regard. It was a standing rule of the house, if such or 
such persons came to call they were not to leave with- 
out receiving some hospitality. A musician, a poor 
dusty trumpeter, whose merits had never been ac- 
knowledged by the public, . . . used to call on 
Stuart. He would give him a good dinner, and then 
talk upon musical subjects for hours afterwards. . . . 
A comfortable addition would be made to his pocket- 
book/' 

Concerning another pensioner, an old Revolution" 
ary soldier, Agnes Stuart once asked her mother: 

"Why does my father always pay Major J for 

dining here? 5 ' 

Jane insisted that her father would not paint on 
Sunday unless pressed, but she could recall only one 
occasion on which when he accompanied his ladies to 
church. He remained standing during the sermon, 
leaning nonchalantly against the side of the pew and 
inhaling huge pinches of snuff. " 'Well/ he said on 
the way home, 1 do not think I shall go to church 
again. ... I do not like the idea of a man getting 
up in a box and having all the conversation to him- 
self/ . . . 

"Nothing delighted him more than teasing my 
mother whenever he could find an opportunity for do- 
ing so. She was a remarkably intelligent and cultivated 
woman, though a matter-of-fact person, and this sort 



ON DESPERATE SEAS 183 

of quizzing was carried too far. Stuart took tlie great" 
est pleasure in teasing her by telling her the most ex*- 
traordinary stories with such a serious countenance 
that it was impossible to know if it was really the case 
or not/ 3 

Once, after talking with the farmer who supplied 
the family with poultry and eggs, Stuart entered the 
parlor with a grave face. "Green/ 3 he said tragically, 
"is going to die." 

"Going to die?" cried Mrs. Stuart. "He is well 
enough. Why do you say so?" 

Stuart shook his head. "Green is going to die." 

"Why, Mr. Stuart, what do you mean? Green is 
as well as you or I." 

"Green, nevertheless, is going to die. I know it, 
for he has just returned to me ten dollars I overpaid 
him." 

When Jane tried her own hand at such spoofing, 
Mrs. Stuart expressed anger. "I have been annoyed 
enough with your father's nonsense in this way. Be- 
sides, it is very bad taste." 

That Mrs. Stuart was dissatisfied is indicated by 
her reluctance, reported by her daughter Ann after 
Stuart's death, "to talk of things gone by." She herself 
may not have been easy to get on with. Henry Fay, a 
friend of Stuart's who tried to help her in her widow 
hood, was stopped by her objections to every expedi- 
ent he suggested. "One is so much disgusted with such 



184 GILBERT STUART 

folly/ 3 he burst out, "as to abandon such people to 
their fate/ 3 He complained bitterly of Mrs. Stuart's 
"ingratitude/' 

Life with father did not encourage the Stuart girls 
to get married, and Emma, the only one who took 
the risk, saw it end unhappily. Nine years after her 
wedding she was living in Boston as "Mrs. Stebbins," 
but she is next heard of as "Miss Emma Stuart/' an 
invalid under medical care in Providence. The records 
of Trinity Church, Newport, give the date of her 
death as November 19, 1875, her age as eighty-five, 
and contain no hint that she ever had a husband. 

The mother and the other three daughters ended 
their days in one household at Newport. Surviving 
the painter by seventeen years, Mrs. Stuart died in 
1845, a g e d seventy-seven. Agnes followed her five 
years later. Ann and Jane lived on together for so long 
that they became a local legend. 

Ann spent her time "seated on a sofa listening, oc- 
casionally uttering a quiet reproof to Jane/' Tall, 
quiet, and frail, she seemed, years before her death in 
1868, to be "fading out of life by slow degrees." A 
local young lady, Mary E. Powel, tells how once Ann 
claimed that her dim eyes saw "something like a veil 
full of sparks of fire falling over my prosaic face and 
figure. . . . *Be quiet, Ann/ urged Miss Jane, but 
I thought that a child of Gilbert Stuart might see more 
than others." 



ON DESPERATE SEAS 185 

Jane was a reincarnation of her father, although 
hampered by being a woman and possessed of little 
talent. She had the "bold lionlike features" that made 
everyone take him at sight as a man of note; they 
merely made her ugly. Once a masher, seeing from 
behind her girlish figure, her firm stride, and her beau- 
tiful feet, hurried after her at night. Under a street 
lamp, she turned her face to him and smiled sar- 
donically, as her father might have done, to see his 
confusion. Telling the story with no audible sigh, she 
commented: "An angel to chase; a devil to face/* 

A favorite of Newport society, fane faced down 
the millionairesses in their diamond tiaras wearing a 
tiara she had self-manufactured from black velvet and 
artificial pearls. At a charade, she did not object to be- 
ing type'cast as a gorilla, the missing link in a bear- 
skin robe; but before the evening was out she re- 
appeared in a court dress, the strong, erect body under 
her ugly face graceful in a minuet. 

With other women, Mary E. Powel remembers, 
"she had many intimacies, sometimes overstrained. 
Occasionally there were sudden ruptures. Faults prob- 
ably on both sides/' Her mainstay was "her old hand- 
maiden Isabella," buxom, eccentric, gypsy4ike. The 
daughter Stuart had called "Boy" died in 1 888. 

For sixty years she had supported herself and the 
other Stuart women by creating portraits and copying 
her father's Washington*. That her skill in no way 



1 86 GILBERT STUART 

rivaled his she realized, and sometimes she complained 
bitterly that he had kept her too busy grinding colors 
to give her any instruction. Stuart had learned nothing 
from his son's tragedy. When Neagle asked him why 
he failed to encourage Jane's ambitions, he replied 
that you throw a presumptive Newfoundland puppy 
into the river: if of the true breed, he will swim with- 
out being taught. 

As a girl, Jane happened in the family attic on 
the portrait of Mrs. Jerome Bonaparte Stuart had 
abandoned when he had quarreled with Napoleon's 
brother: "the stretcher had been taken from it, and 
the canvas, unrolled, was lying on the floor." Think- 
ing it very beautiful, Jane started a surreptitious copy; 
her heart stood still when she heard her father's foot- 
steps on the stair. He appeared in the garret breathless, 
stared at her for a moment, shouted that the chimney 
was on fire, and disappeared through a trap door to 
the roof. In terror at what he had caught her doing, 
Jane sat with the guilty copy before her, awaiting his 
rage when he returned. But Stuart demonstrated again 
the unpredictability of his nature: "Why, Boy, you 
must not mix your colors with turpentine. You must 
have oil/' 

Jane had little opportunity to learn even the most 
rudimentary things. To enter her father's painting 
room in his absence was forbidden, and his attitude 
toward interruptions made it, as she wrote, "a settled 



ON DESPERATE SEAS 187 

thing in the house that it was best to abstain altogether*' 
unless specifically invited. At first she had thought 
that when her father was safely out of the house, she 
could tiptoe in and look around without danger. But 
Stuart had set up too efficient a machine. "The arrange- 
ment of his painting-room was simple/' Jane said 
years later, "more simple than any other painting- 
room with which I have been familiar/ 3 Since every- 
thing was placed exactly where he wished it, he knew 
on his return if anything had been touched, and re- 
sponded with horrifying anger. The most heinous sin 
of all was to pick up one of the brushes on which he 
lavished the most devoted care. 

Although he could still summon his courtly man- 
ners when he wanted them, Stuart no longer had the 
patience to dress neatly. John Quincy Adams consid- 
ered him "highly picturesque, with his dress always 
disordered, and taking snuff from a large round tin 
wafer box, holding perhaps half a pound, which he 
must use up in one day. He considers himself beyond 
question the first portrait-painter of his age, and tells 
numbers of anecdotes concerning himself to prove it, 
with the utmost simplicity and unconsciousness of 
ridicule. His conclusion is not very wide of the truth." 

The first portrait-painter of the age: this was the 
distinction he had always sought, but now that the 
years were closing to him doors that could never be 
opened, he wondered whether it was enough. He 



i 88 GILBERT STUART 

knew that historical painting, the "grand style" of 
figure art which had been practiced by his master 
West, was still regarded as the only true road to the 
peak of Parnassus; he often spoke to Knapp of his 
"strong desire to do something in the historical way to 
leave behind me." This proved to be no more than 
an insubstantial yearning, but in his sixty'Sixth year 
he did paint his only known landscape and a genre" 
like composition of a boy chasing butterflies. The 
pictures were not successful, and he never deviated 
from heads again. 

Stuart remained one of the narrowest specialists 
among highly talented artists. In his specialty, his skill 
deteriorated surprisingly little, although Neagle tells 
us that "his hand shook at times so violently that I 
wondered how he could place his brush where his 
mind directed/' Another eyewitness described how 
"Stuart stood with his wrist upon the rest, his hand 
vibrating, and when it became tolerably steady, with 
a sudden dash of the brush he put the color on the 
canvas/ 3 

During his seventyfirst year, Stuart completed a 
portrait of John Adams, and charmed the ninety"yeap 
old ex-President into softening his prejudice against 
painters. "Speaking generally," Adams said, "no pen" 
ance is like having one's picture done. You must sit 
in a constrained and unnatural position, which is a 
trial to the temper. But I should like to sit for Stuart 



ON DESPERATE SEAS 189 

from the first of January to the last of December, for 
he lets me do just what I please, and keeps me con- 
stantly amused by his conversation/* When Stuart 
showed the finished portrait to one of his friends, he 
said: "Look at him. It is very like him, is it not? Do 
you know what he is going to do? He is just going to 
sneeze/ 3 

Later that same year, Stuart suffered a stroke that 
paralyzed his left arm and the left side of his face. 
Gout joined with paralysis to make his life an unceas" 
ing round of pain. 

Now the specter of leaving his wife and daughters 
destitute, which had long haunted him in depressed 
moments, became his constant companion. No one 
could blame him for not having been prolific he had 
in his lifetime produced some thousand portraits 
and he had received good prices a minimum of 
$100 for a bust, $150 if he went to the waist. The 
trouble was, he decided, that "a man who works with 
his hands can never become rich. A grocer will make 
more by buying a cargo of molasses in a day than my 
labor can bring me in a year/ 3 

When he hobbled around the house, it was clear 
how little he had to leave behind. The furnishings of 
his painting-room easel, stool, table, looking-glass, 
old carpet, six cheap chairs, shovel, tongs, and fender 
were excellent for their purpose, but would hardly 
bring much money. In the parlor were his best things: 



i go GILBERT STUART 

an organ (later assessed at $100), books ($45), a 
case of instruments ($15), a good carpet, looking- 
glass, and fire set. But the twelve chairs were shabby 
(3 3i cents apiece), as were the teaboard and 
waiter. All that was worth much in the back parlor 
was the clock ($7), although the table with ends 
($5) was not too bad. In the kitchen, the kitchen 
chamber, the back chamber, and the four chambers 
on the second floor the furnishings did hardly more 
than serve necessity. He had little silver beyond the 
teaspoons ($7.70) and his snuffbox ($3.50). 

In answer to a request that he undertake another 
full-length of Washington, he got someone to write 
his own hand was too shaky for anything but waver- 
ing down a signature that he would do so if his 
health improved. He would want two years to com" 
plete it, $2,000, and the exclusive right for fourteen 
years to have an engraving made. He worked on 
smaller pictures, slowly and painfully, yet with amaz- 
ing effect. 

When in 1828 he became too sick to rise, the 
doctors said his gout had settled on his chest and 
stomach. For three months he suffered mounting 
agony. Calling one day, Washington Allston was hor- 
rified to see how emaciated was the body that lay rigid 
on the bed. Solicitously he asked Stuart how he was. 
A ghost of the old scornful smile appeared on the 
unparalyzed side of Stuart's face. "Ah," he cried, "yon 



ON DESPERATE SEAS 19 r 

can judge/ 5 He drew his pantaloons up to show his 
shrunken leg. "You can see how much I am out of 
drawing/' A few weeks later, on July 9, 1828, he 
was dead. 

Stuart left assets of $375, debts of $1,778. Al- 
though Philadelphia's leading artists agreed to wear 
mourning for a month in his honor, although the news- 
papers gave much space to his praises and expressions 
of national loss, his funeral was a quick, cheap, family 
affair. In a cut-rate coffin, his remains were stowed in 
a vacant space in the Central Burying Ground, bought 
from some tradesmen who had a bigger vault than 
they needed. His family instantly forgot where he had 
been buried. A friend, Jane explained, wrote down 
the number of the vault during the interment, but lost 
the piece of paper. The information was available 
in the municipal death records, but his wife and 
daughters announced firmly to inquirers that his bones 
had been permanently mislaid. No monument, not 
even the simplest stone, marked Stuart's last resting- 
place. 

Thus sadly a great painter passed from the national 
scene, and with him passed the great days of American 
portrait art. Between the first years of settlement and 
the death of Stuart, our painters, although they had 
tried their hands at other things, had been primarily 
creators of likenesses. Portraiture went on, of course, 
and produced its specialists, but the major interest of 



GILBERT STUART 
the most interesting painters turned from man to na- 
ture. In a green tidal wave of foliage, the romantic 
movement broke over American studios. 

Stuart had lived through wild years. Molten lava 
seethed in correct-seeming breasts covered with linen 
ruffles, until at last forces long constrained erupted 
into two revolutions. While the artist watched, a 
civilization that had been sickening died, and a new 
stood up in its cradle and screamed with the fury of 
an infant. 

On the surface, Stuart was a Georgian gentleman, 
habitue of drawing-rooms, yet he was swayed by the 
maladies and inspirations of romantic artists. In con" 
duct, he was as close to Turner as to Reynolds. His 
life reflected the conflicts of the generation into which 
he was born, and so did his work. Opening his eyes 
when the eighteenth century had but half unrolled, 
he believed the proper study of man was man. Living 
through the first quarter of the next era, he saw men 
not as types, but as individuals, each worthy of study 
because of a personality uniquely his own. A product 
of transition, he imprisoned under glass the butterfly 
of change. On panel and on canvas he recorded bril" 
liantly the faces and characters of the voyagers who 
shot one of the great rapids in the river of history. 



BIBLIOGRAPHY 

THIS book is a completely revised and greatly expanded 
version of the biography of Gilbert Stuart in James 
Thomas Flexner's Americas Old Masters (New York, 

I939)- 

No important collection of Stuart papers has ever been 
found; he was too careless to preserve any documents, 
too impatient to write any long, revealing letters. What 
little material his family may have preserved was de^ 
stroyed when Jane Stuart's studio burned down during 
the nineteenth century. A few Stuart letters may, how* 
ever, be seen at the Pennsylvania, the Massachusetts, 
and the New York Historical Societies. Harry MacNeill 
Bland, who has assisted me in many ways, owns photo* 
stats of Stuart documents that have passed through his 
hands. Hall Park McCullough, also of New York, pos* 
sesses various Stuart papers, including the book of notes 
kept by Matthew Harris Jouett when he was studying in 
Stuart's studio, the most important single source concern' 
ing the painter's ideas on art. 

The mill where Stuart was born still stands near James' 
town, Rhode Island. It has been restored, and fitted up 
with snuflygrinding machinery of the period. 

William Dunlap's History of the Rise and Progress of 
the Arts of Design in the United States (2 vols., New 
York, 1834; new edition edited by Frank W. Bayley 
and Charles E. Goodspeed, 3 vols., Boston, 1918) con" 



194 BIBLIOGRAPHY 

tains, in addition to Dunlap's own recollections of Stuart, 
accounts of him by a number of his associates, including 
the essay by Dr. Waterhouse which is the most reliable 
source of information concerning Stuart's youth. Al- 
though the picture of Stuart drawn in this book is not 
flattering, it tallies well with independent contemporary 
accounts and may be taken at face value. That Dunlap 
himself suppressed some of the more damaging anecdotes 
he received may be seen by consulting his Diary, 1766- 
1823, edited by Dorothy C. Barck (3 vols., New York, 
1931). 

Jane Stuart published three articles about her father in 
Scribner's Monthly (XII, 1876, pp. 367-74; XIII, 
1876-7, pp. 640-6; XIV, 1877, pp. 376-82) which 
give the family's version of his career, and her own mem" 
ories of his character. 

Stuart's daughter Ann contributed a short sketch of her 
father to Wilkin Updike's History of the Episcopal 
Church in Narragansett (3 vols., Boston, 1907). This 
work also quotes from church records important source 
material concerning Stuart's childhood, 

William T. Whitley's Qilbert Stuart (Cambridge, 
Mass., 1932) contains a large amount of new material, 
primarily about Stuart's English and Irish periods. Mr. 
Whitley's investigations in contemporary newspapers 
are particularly important. 

The most up-to-date information about Stuart's paint- 
ings is to be found in the files of the Frick Art Reference 
Library. I am grateful to this institution and also to the 
New York Historical Society for much assistance. 



BIBLIOGRAPHY 

Lawrence Park's Qilbert Stuart, an Illustrated De 
scriptive List of His Works (4 vols., New York, 1926) 
is a monumental work of scholarship, although, as every 
work of this magnitude must, it contains errors. Two of 
the large volumes are made up of catalogue, two of re" 
productions. An excellent short biographical sketch of 
Stuart by John Hill Morgan and an appreciation by 
Royal Cortissoz are included. 

In "Some Unrecorded Portraits by Gilbert Stuart" 
(Art in America, XXI, 1932-3, pp. 15-27, 39-48, 
81-96) William Sawitzky makes many new attribu- 
tions to Stuart and corrects errors in Park's catalogue. 
He states that about a hundred pictures listed there, or 
roughly ten per cent, are misattributions. See also Wil- 
liam Sawitzky's "Lost Portraits Add to Gilbert Stuart's 
Fame" (New York Times Magazine, August 12, 
1928). 

George C. Mason's The Life and Works of Qilbert 
Stuart (New York, 1879) comprises a rudimentary cata- 
logue of the painter's work and a lengthy biographical 
sketch which contains some previously unpublished ma- 
terial obtained from Stuart's daughters, but pays for this 
privilege by glossing over the unpleasant details of his 
life and character. 

The most important source concerning Stuart's Irish 
years is J. D. Herbert's Irish Varieties of the Last Fifty 
Tears (London, 1836). When Herbert and Dunlap re- 
port Stuart's speech, they give it exactly the same flavor; 
the artist's way of talking must have been very marked 
to have made so deep an impression. 



196 BIBLIOGRAPHY 

For a short account of Stuart by one of his Boston 
friends who had a deep psychological insight into the 
painter's tortured character, see Samuel L. Knapp's 
American Biography, volume 3 of his The Treasury of 
Knowledge and Library of Reference (New York, 



An eloquent account of the history behind Stuart's 
painting of Augusta Montagu may be found in Booth 
Tarkington's Some Old Portraits (New York, 



Stuart's portraits of Washington are catalogued and 
discussed by John Hill Morgan and Mantle Fielding in 
their Life Portraits of Washington and Their Replicas 
(Philadelphia, 1939). An earlier volume of similar in" 
tention, Elizabeth Bryant Johnston's Original Portraits of 
Washington (Boston, 1882), is, of course, less up'to^ 
date, but contains some material not elsewhere published. 
See also Charles Henry Hart's Catalogue of the En* 
graved Portraits of Washington (New York, 1904) and 
Charles Allen Munn's Three Types of Washington 
Portraits (New York, 1908). 

John Hill Morgan's Qilbert Stuart and His Pupils 
(New York, 1939) gives biographies of many of the 
young men who worked in Stuart's studio, and contains 
a complete transcript of the notes Jouett kept concerning 
Stuart's teaching. 

Much information on Stuart's later years is contained 
in two articles by Mabel M. Swan: "Gilbert Stuart in 
Boston" (Antiques, XXIX, 1936, pp. 65-7) and 



BIBLIOGRAPHY 197 

"Paging Gilbert Stuart in Boston" (Antiques, XXXIV, 

*93 8 * PP- 38-9). 

Wilbur D. Peat, director of the John Herron Art In- 
stitute, Indianapolis, kindly supplied me with the infop 
mation I have used about Stuart's pupil Lewis Peckham. 



INDEX 



Adams, John, 136, 160, 188- 

9 
Adams, John Quincy, 120, 

1 60, 187 
Alexander, Cosmo, 17, 18, 

22, 23, 25, 29, 37 
Allen, Ann Penn, 115 
Allentown, 115 
Allston, Washington, 162-3, 

190 

Anthony, John, 7 
Anthony, Joseph, 20-1, 27, 

28, 33, 43, 102, 109, 139 
Anthony, Martha, 102 
Art Journal (London), 63 
Athenaeum Washington, 

143, 145-6, 147, 165, 185 
Augusta Montagu (Stuart), 

78, 81-2 

Baltimore, 151 
Bannister, John, 16, 21 
Baretti, Joseph, 61-2 
Barre, Isaac, 67, 77, 88 
Baston, Joseph, 154-5 
Beechey, William, 65 
Belshazzar's Feast (All- 
ston), 162 

Benjamin Waterhouse (Stu- 
art), 58 
Benjamin West (Stuart), 

60 
Berkeley, Bishop, 12 



Bingham, William, 84, 128, 

133, 134, 136, 157 
Bingham, Mrs. William, 84, 

no-n, 114, 121, 128, 129, 

134, 136, 157 
Binon, M., 136 
Bisset, Rev. George, 12 
Blake, William, 37 
Bonaparte, Jerome, 151, 186 
Bonaparte, Mrs. Jerome, 

151, 152, 186 

Bordentown, 149, 150, 153 
Boston, 3, 5, 27, 29, 153, 159, 

160, 162, 163, 164-5, J ^7' 

168, 176, 178-80 
Boston Athenaeum, 143, 176 
Boston Columbian Centinel, 

153 
Boston Saturday Evening 

Globe, 165 
Boswell, James, 80 
Boydell, Alderman, 73, 86 
Brown, Mather, 29, 69, 159 
Browne, Arthur, 12 
Buckingham House, 38 
Buffalo Hunt, A (Charles 

G. Stuart), 176 
Burr, Aaron, 121, 132 
Bussy, Benjamin, 159 

Camden, 105 

Chalmers, Sir George, 18- 

19 



Chambers, Sir George, see 

Chalmers 
Charming, William Ellery, 

I2O 

Charles, Prince (Bonnie 
Prince Charlie), 8, 14, 16 

Chew, Harriet, 142 

Chorley, John, 41 

Chorley, Mrs. John, 34 

Clough, Ebenezer, 154 

Coates, William, 72 

Cole, Edward, 9 

Collum, Sir John, 63 

Comerford, John, 90 

Connecticut, 47, 140 

Constable, John, 57 

Copley, John Singleton, n, 
27, 35, 102, 118-19, 136, 
160, 161 

Correggio (Antonio Allegri 
da Corregio), 171 

Cruikshank, William Cum- 
berland, 72 

Cumberland, Henry Fred- 
erick, Duke of, 1 6 

Curtis, William, 40 

Custis, George Washington 
Parke, 128 

Cutts, Anna, 152 

Daily Telegraph (London), 

*3 
Dallas, Alexander James, 

151 
Dana, Richard Henry, Sr., 

163 



INDEX 

David, Jacques Luis, 36, 128 
Davis, Mrs. Charles, 159 
Davis, Isaac P., 155-6, 167 
Dublin, 87, 88-91, 94, 98, 

101 

Dublin, Archbishop of, 91-3 
Dunlap, William, 52, 65, 66, 

69, 96, 102-3, 139, 143, 



Edinburgh, 18-19, 3 
Edwin, David, 139-40, 177-8 
Eichholtz, Jacob, 165 
Ellicott, Andrew, 75 
England, 6, 7, 9, 35, 102, 

i57 

Essays in Physiognomy 
(Lavater), 128 

Faneuil Hall, 153-4, *55 
Farington, Joseph, 67, 103 
Fay, Henry, 183 
Fitzgibbon, John, 94-5 
Flora Londinensis (Curtis), 

40 
Fothergill, John, 33-4, 40, 

4i 

France, 133 
Franklin, Benjamin, 65 
Franklin, William Temple, 

65 

Fraser, Charles, 153 
Freeman, Mrs. James, 34 
Frothingham, James, 161, 

165-6, 173 
Fuseli, Henry, 51, 73 



INDEX 

Gainsborough, Thomas, 56, 
60, 63, 64, 65, 67, 76, 82, 

83 

Gates, Gen. Horatio, 104-7 
Gentleman Skating (Stu- 
art), 6 1-4, 82, 83 
George III, King of Eng- 
land, 35, 36, 44, 45, 52-3, 

55.75 

Germantown, 138, 139, 143 
Godey's Lady's Book, 74 
Grant, Sir Alexander, 25, 

29, 32 
Grant, William, 61-4 

Hackman, James, 79-80 
Hamilton, Alexander, no 
Harding, Chester, 179-80 
Hart, Isaac, 16 
Heath, James, 133 
Heff erman, Susan, 8 
Herbert, J. D., 89, 91, 92, 

93, 97, 98, 101 

History of London from Its 
Foundations to the Pres- 
ent Time, The (Mait- 
land), 38 

Hogarth, William, 78 
Home, Robert, 91 
Hooper, Mrs. Robert, 178 
Hopkinson, Joseph, 151 
Hoppner, John, 57, 63, 65 
Hoppner, Mrs. John, 64 
Houdin, Jean Eugene Rob- 
ert, 147 
Hudson River Valley, 132 



111 

Hull, Isaac, 160 

Hunter, William, 15, 16, 18 

Illustrated London News, 

63 

Indiana, 167 
Ireland, 100, 102 
Italy, 17, 35 

James II, King of England, 

125 

Jaudenes y Nebot, Don Jo- 
sef de, 103 
Jaudenes y Nebot, Dona 

Josef de, 103 
Jay, John, 108, 122 
Jay, Mrs. John, 108-9 
Jefferson, Thomas, no, 114, 

*49i I 57 
Jervis, John, Earl of St. 

Vincent, 67, 84, 88 
John Bannister (Stuart), 

25-6 

Johnson, Dr. Samuel, 49, 80 
Jouett, Matthew Harris, 46, 

51, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 

179 

Kemble, John, 49, 67, 97 
Kong, Rufus, 134 
King, Samuel, 17 
Knapp, Samuel L., 161, 180, 

188 

Kneller, Sir Godfrey, 16 
Knotchell, John Ernest, 12 
Knox, Gen. Henry, 37, 142 



IV 

Lancaster, Pa., 35 
Lansdowne Washington 

(Stuart), 129-32, 138, 143, 

145, 160, 185 
Last Supper (Penniman), 

165 

Lavater, Johann Kaspar, 128 
Lawrence, Sir Thomas, 65, 

87, 167, 173 
Lenox, Isabella Henderson, 

117 

Lettsom, John Coakley, 40 
London, 17, 27, 28, 29, 30-4, 

35, 37, 39 4*> 57 ^3, 65, 

<57, 74. 75, 77> 7^94, "<>, 

1 80 

Lopez, Aaron, 20, 2 1 
Lopez, Mrs. Aaron, 23, 24 
Lopez, Joshua, 23, 24 
Love in a Village, 79 

Madison, Dolly, 114, 145, 

151, 152, 157 
Madison, James, 145 
Maitland, William, 38 
Malbone, Francis, 26 
Malbone, Saunders, 26 
Manet, Edouard, 171 
Manners, Charles, Duke of 

Rutland, 62, 67, 88 
Maryland, 75 
Mason, Jonathan, 153 
Massachusetts, 160, 170, 

178-9 
Moffatt, Thomas, 8, n, 16, 

28 



INDEX 

Monroe, James, 1 1 1, 1 14, 1 20 
Montagu, Augusta, 78-81 
Monticello, 157 
Morton, Mrs. Perez, 112, 

114 
Mrs. Lopez and her son, 

Joshua (Stuart), 24 
Mrs. Philip Jeremiah Schuy- 

ler (Stuart), 116 

Napoleon, Emperor of the 
French, 128, 151, 173, 186 

Narragansett, 9 

Neagle, John, 126, 147, 170, 
171-2, 180-1, 186, 188 

Neal, John, 3-6, 162 

New York, 6, 99, 101, 103, 
1 06, 109, 1 60, 1 66 

Newburyport, 116 

Newport, 7, u, 12, 15, 16, 

17, 19, 20, 21, 22-6,27,29, 

33. 34, 37, 44, 5<5, 5, 59, 

184, !85 
Newton, Gilbert Stuart, 

168-9, J 73 

Newton, Henry, 168 
Northumberland, Hugh 

Percy, Duke of, 67 
Nova Scotia, 19, 28, 33 

Pack, Christopher, 89-90 
Pakenham, Thomas, 95 
Paris, 87, 173 
Paris Salon, 171 
Parke, William Thomas, 
68 



INDEX 

Parkman, Samuel, 153-5, 

i 5 6 

Paul, Jeremiah, 131 

Peale, Charles Willson, 27, 

36, 123, 126, 136, 146 
Peale, James, 126 
Peale, Raphaelle, 126 
Peale, Rembrandt, 126 
Peckham, William, 167 
Penniman, John Ritto, 165 
Pennsylvania, 33, 35, 36, 115, 

140 
Pennsylvania Academy of 

the Fine Arts, 160 
Perth, 7 
Petrus Stuyvesant (Stuart), 

104 
Petty, William, Marquis of 

Lansdowne, 128, 133, 134, 

i 3 8 

Philadelphia, 5, 20, 27, 35, 
43, 44, 45, 102, 109, no, 
122, 127, 131, 134, 138, 
139, 144, 165, 180, 191 

Pickering, Timothy, 133 

Pinckney, Charles Cotes- 
worth, 133 

Pine, Robert Edge, 123 

Place, George, 90 

Poacher, A (Charles G. Stu- 
art), 176 

Pollack, George, 102, 119 

Pollack, Hugh, 102, 119 

Portrait of a Gentleman, A 
(Stuart), 58 

Powel, Mary E., 184-5 



Providence, 184 
Public Advertiser, 77 

Queen's Palace (London), 
3^,39 

Raeburn, Henry, 63, 65, 82 
Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio), 

38,55 

Ray, Martha, 78-9 
Reading, England, 72 
Redwood, Abraham, 25 
Rembrandt (Rembrandt 

van Rijn), 55, 163 
Rewald, John, 171 
Reynolds, Sir Joshua, 46, 60, 

62, 65, 67, 75, 86-7, 89, *9 2 
Rhode Island, 7, 8, 14, 33, 

103 

Ribera, Jacob Rodriquez, 2 1 
Robertson, Walter, 101 
Rodney, George, Lord, 67 
Rome, 35 

Romney, George, 63, 117 
Rosa, Salvator, 15 
Roxbury, 176, 178 
Royal Academy (London), 

40, 50-1, 55, 58, 59, 62, 63, 

75-7 
Rubens, Peter Paul, 163 

St. James Chronicle, 60, 76 
St. Vincent, Earl of, see 

Jervis, John 
Sandwich, John Montagu, 

Earl of, 78-9, 80 



VI 

Schuyler, Gen. Philip, 116 

Schuyler, Mrs. Philip Jere- 
miah, 116 

Scotland, 7, 8, 18, 21, 22 

Sears, David, 164 

Serres, Dominic, 86 

Shee, Martin Archer, 90 

Shield, William, 68 

Siddons, Mrs. Sarah, 67 

Society of Artists, 17, 76 

Stillorgan, 96, 98 

Stoddard, Robert, Jr., 26 

Stow, Edward, 149 

Stuart, Agnes, 96, 135, 149, 
180, 182, 184, 191 

Stuart, Ann ( daughter ) , 
180, 183, 184, 189, 191 

Stuart, Ann (sister), 9, 28, 
33, 168 

Stuart, Charles Gilbert, 96, 
149, 175-6 

Stuart, Charlotte Coates, 
71-3, 96-7, 112, 149, 150, 
152, 177, 183-8, 189, 191 

Stuart, Elizabeth Anthony, 
7, 8, 10, 28, 33, 168 

Stuart, Emma, 96, 149, 180, 
184, 189, 191 

Stuart, Gilbert: Addiction 
to snufl, 3, 5-7, 44, 74, 87, 
177, 182, 187; appearance, 
3-4, 43, 44, 48, 74, 138, 
139, 176, 187; drinking, 
4~5> 73-4. 101, 132, 138-9, 
1 80; conviviality, wit, love 
of story-telling, 5, 28, 52, 



INDEX 

Stuart, Gilbert (continued) 
62, 89, 112, 128, 134, 136, 
152, 158-9, 177, 182, 189, 
191; parentage, 7-8, 10- 
n; childhood and early 
education, 9, 12-13; first 
works, 15; art training 
and influences, 16-18, 22, 
27, 37, 50; stay in Scot- 
land, 18-19; return to 
Newport and first suc- 
cess, 20; interest in music, 
21-2, 31-2, 67-8, 73, 89, 
112, 158, 182; eccentricity, 
volatile temper, 21-2, 25, 

37, 39. 4 1 , 49. 5i. 55, 69, 
74, 83, 89, 93, 98, 122, 128, 
131, 132, 136, 137-9, i5 2 . 
158, 160-2, 164, 169, 177, 
1 80- r, 187; Newport por- 
traits, 21-8, 37, 58; insight 
and realism in portraits, 
23, 50, 60, 6 1, 77-8, 85-7, 
95, 104, 106-7, "3-*4 
116-21, 130-1, 146, 164, 
1 88, 192; development of 
skill and style, 23, 27, 37, 
58-60, 66, 81-3, 94-6, 103, 
106-8, 115-16, 147, 152, 
164, 170, 173; kindness to 
young artists and needy, 
29, 165-7, l6 9, *7, 181-2; 
arrival in London, 30; ex- 
travagance and constant 
debt, 39-41, 66-7, 73, 75, 
86, 97-101, 111-13, 140, 



INDEX 

Stuart, Gilbert (continued) 
178, 189-91; training with 
Benjamin West, 42-55, 
170, 171; art principles 
and techniques, 50-2, 
161-2, 170-3; success in 
England, 58, 60, 62-6, 76- 

7, 84; marriage, 72; irre- 
sponsibility, 73, 98-9, 142, 
149-51, 159-60, 178; flight 
to Dublin, 87-8; imprison- 
ment, 88-9; success in 
Dublin, 91, 94-5; return 
to the United States, 99; 
portraits of George 
Washington, ioo~i, 109, 
122-7, 140, 141-8, 153-6; 
popularity as painter, 102- 

3, 132, 137, 140-1, 163; in- 
fluence on younger paint- 
ers, 173-4; relationship 
with family, 175-6, 180- 

4, 186-7; son's death, 176; 
loss of prestige, 178-9; in- 
firmity and death, 188- 
90 

Stuart, Gilbert (father), 7- 

8, lo-n, 14, 20, 28, 33, 
168 

Stuart, James, 9 

Stuart, Jane, 96-7, 135, 148, 

149, 180, 181-3, 184-7, 

189, 191 

Stuyvesant, Peter, 104 
Sully, Thomas, 1512, 159, 

160, 163, 167, 173, 181 



Vll 

Taylor, Rev. Dr., 160 
Testimony to the Genius of 

Sir Joshua Reynolds, 87 
Thew, Robert, 86 
Three Princesses (Gains- 
borough), 76 
Thurlow, Lord Edward, 

140 
Titian (Tiziano Vecelli), 

55, 163, 171 ^ 
Trott, Benjamin, 138 
Trumbull, John, 47, 48, 50, 

52, 125, 139, 146 
Turner, Joseph, 57, 192 

Van Dyck, Anthony, 16, 

21, 60, 65, 163 
Vanderlyn, John, 132, 169, 

J 73 

Vaughan, Samuel, 128 
Vaughan portrait of Wash- 
ington, 127-8, 143, 146, 

185 . 
Virginia, 157 

Walpole, Horace, 80 
Ward, J., 60 
Washburn, Gordon, 119 
Washington, D.C., 149, 151, 

153 
Washington, George, 100-1, 

105, 106, 109, 122-31, 133, 

136, 140-7, 151, 154, 155, 

156, 157, 190 
Washington, Martha, 126-7, 

141, 142-3 



vin 

Washington Alhton (Stu- 
art), 164 

Washington at Dorchester 
Heights (Stuart), 156, 185 

Waterhouse, Benjamin, 12, 
13, 17, 1 8, 20, 21, 22, 25, 
27, 28, 30, 32-3, 34, 36, 
37-8, 39, 41, 59, 123, 157 

Watson, John, 139 

West, Benjamin, 35-7, 39, 
4*-55> 58 fo, 61, 62, 64, 
65, 66, 75, 89-90, 102, 136, 
156, 170, 171, 173, 188 



INDEX 

West, Mrs. Benjamin, 73 
West, Raphael, 54 
Wharton, Joseph, 43, 44 
Whistler, James, 171 
Whitley, William T., 18- 

19,63 

Windsor Castle, 45 
Winstanley, William, 144- 

5; I54-S 
Winthrop, Thomas L., 153 

Yates, Mrs. Richard, 119 
Yorktown, 105 



A NOTE ON THE TYPE 

This book was set on the Linotype in a face called El 
dorado, so named by its designer, WILLIAM ADDISON 
DWIGGINS, as an echo of Spanish adventures in the 
Western World. The series of experiments that cul- 
minated in this typeface began in 1942; the designer 
was trying a page more "brunette" than the usual book 
type. "One wanted a face that should be sturdy, and yet 
not too mechanical . . . Another desideratum was that 
the face should be narrowish, compact, and close fitted, 
for reasons of economy of materials." The specimen that 
started Dwiggins on his way was a type design used by 
the Spanish printer A. de Sancha at Madrid about 1774. 
Eldorado, however, is in no direct way a copy of that 
letter, though it does reflect the Madrid specimen in the 
anatomy of its arches, curves, and junctions. Of special 
interest in the lower-case letters are the stresses of color in 
the blunt, sturdy serifs, subtly counterbalanced by the 
emphatic weight of some of the terminal curves and 
finials. The roman capitals are relatively open, and 
winged with liberal serifs and an occasional festive touch. 
This book was composed, printed, and bound by The 
Plimpton Press, Norwood, Massachusetts. Paper manu' 
factured by S. D. Warren Company, Boston. The typog' 
raphy and binding were designed by the creator of its 
typeface W. A. Dwiggins. 




: z 



24135