Today is the Fourth of July, “Independence Day” here in the U.S., a holiday on which we celebrate not having to pay undue deference to a little old lady who wears funny hats.
Amid carrying on the traditions of beer and barbecues handed down by our nation’s founding fathers, there is sometimes talk of the fathers themselves — the framers of our government and its basic documents, and when those guys are mentioned, out come the Gilbert Stuart portraits.
Stuart, as I explained in my previous post on him, was a premiere American portraitist, but his skills a painter are overshadowed by his “greatest hits” of presidential portraits, notably of “not so handsome” George Washington (above, top, with detail), as well as other key figures like John “I make George look good” Adams (third down) and Thomas “I can’t stick around to have my portrait finished” Jefferson (fourth down).
As interesting as these portraits can be, I think Stuart shines much more readily in his portraits of less well known figures like Matilda Stoughton de Jaudenes (third and fourth from the bottom) and Marianne Ashley Walker (bottom two), in which you can see his economical, painterly brushwork and much more lively portrayals than those of the stiffly posed politicians.
(I don’t know if Walker had the hots for Stuart, or he just wished she did, or what, but that’s some smoldering look he captured there.)
The images above are from two excellent sources of high resolution images of Stuart’s work, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Google Art Project. For more, see my previous post on Gilbert Stuart, which lists additional resources.