At the time Gilbert Stuart painted the portraits of Martha and GeorgeWashington [1980.1], he was the foremost portraitist in the United States. He was, in effect, the unofficial painter to the new nation. He portrayed many leading political figures and wealthy citizens, and his sitters also...
At the time Gilbert Stuart painted the portraits of Martha and GeorgeWashington [1980.1], he was the foremost portraitist in the United States. He was, in effect, the unofficial painter to the new nation. He portrayed many leading political figures and wealthy citizens, and his sitters also included James Monroe, James Madison, and John Adams [1999.590]. Born in Rhode Island, Stuart had studied with Benjamin West in London, developed a fluid painting style based on contemporary English portraiture, and then successfully competed for commissions with British artists. He returned to the United States in 1792 and established studios in both Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. He also worked in New York before permanently settling in Boston in 1805. This most famous image of Martha Washington (1731–1802) was commissioned by her from Stuart along with its pendant of George Washington shortly before the president retired from public service to return with his wife to their plantation at Mount Vernon. The portraits were painted in Germantown, just outside of Philadelphia, in 1796. Mrs. Washington was sixty-five years old when Stuart painted her; she appears in a modest lace cap that speaks to her preference for the resumption of a quiet life rather than one filled with elaborate occasions of state. Stuart never finished or delivered the paintings, making use of his likeness of the president to create numerous replicas. Martha Washington, despite traditional reports that she did not care for Stuart’s depiction of her husband, tried repeatedly to acquire them, to no avail. Stuart’s representation of George Washington provided the source for his image on U.S. dollar bill; his depiction of Martha was also once used on currency—her face appeared on the $1 silver certificate in 1886. Frames for both Washington portraits were made by John Doggett, a cabinetmaker, frame maker, picture dealer, and entrepreneur, when the Boston Athenaeum purchased them from Stuart’s estate in 1831. Doggett also owned and framed Thomas Sully’s gigantic Passage of the Delaware [03.1079]. This text was adapted and expanded by Erica E. Hirshler from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting[http://www.mfashop.com/9020398034.html], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).
1796, retained by the artist until his death in 1828; 1831, both George and Martha Washington's portraits were sold by the artist's heirs to the Washington Monument Association, Boston, and twenty-two subscribers for $1500, and given by them to the Boston Athenaeum; 1876, deposited by the Boston Athenaeum at the MFA; 1980, sold by the Athenaeum to the MFA and the National Portrait Gallery. (Accession Date: March 19, 1980)
William Francis Warden Fund, John H. and Ernestine A. Payne Fund, Commonwealth Cultural Preservation Trust. Jointly owned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.