Tuesday 5 August 2014

A Portrait of Gilbert Stuart

It is no secret that I can pass many happy hours perusing artworks of the long 18th century and the painting that has caught my eye today is one of the most striking I think I have seen. It has certainly struck a chord with some of my Pinterest followers, so I thought I would share my thoughts on it here today.

The painting is the work of Rhode Island artist, Gilbert Stuart, who was born in 1755 and is perhaps best remembered for the Lansdowne portrait of George Washington, which today hangs in the Smithsonian and is partially featured on the dollar bill. Apparently painted at some point in the mid-1780s, the identity of the man in the painting remained unconfirmed until 1965 when Charles M Mount, Stuart's biographer, suggested that it was a self-portrait and this has since been accepted as fact.

Gilbert Stuart, Self Portrait, 1770s

Stuart spent many years in England throughout the 1770s and 1780s and here he learned the technical skill that this painting so keenly displays. It is rich in detail and vibrant with life, the rosy-cheeked Stuart looks out of the canvas with one eyebrow just slightly raised, a somewhat knowing look on his face. There is something almost arrogant in his self assurance and yet I don't find it off-putting, rather it speaks of confidence, of a chap fully at ease with his own place in the world.

If Stuart meant to make his mark then the result was admirably achieved. After nearly 20 years away from his home country, the artist returned home to a life of celebrity but, sadly, crippling debt. His end would not be a happy one for now let's leave him here, half-smiling from the canvas and imbued with unshakeable confidence.

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