Gilbert Stuart

We called in at the birthplace of Gilbert Stuart, the local artist who made good in London.   Born in North Saunderstown, he moved to Newport aged seven.   His father operated a small rural snuff mill.   Aged 14, he was taught to paint by Cosmo Alexander, a travelling Scot, who took him away to Philadelphia, Virginia and ultimately to Edinburgh, where Alexander died.   Stuart then worked his way back to Newport as a crewman on a collier.   In Newport, he made a living painting rather wooden portraits of local grandees, but he left for London in 1775, when trouble was brewing in the colonies.   He worked to begin with as a church organist until he appealed to Benjamin West to take him on as a pupil.   In 1782, he made his reputation by exhibiting a portrait of a Scotsman, William Grant, skating (now known as The Skater and in the NGA Washington) in the RA’s annual exhibition.   He claimed to have been ‘lifted into fame by a single picture’.   Two years later, he greatly annoyed Reynolds by painting an unidealised portrait of him looking old, a bit bleary eyed and taking snuff.   Later on, when back in the United States as a successful portrait painter, he told Washington Allston that ‘Reynolds was a good painter, but he has done incalculable mischief to the rising generation by many of his remarks…You can elevate your mind as much as you can;  but, while you have nature before you as a model, paint what you see and look with your own eyes’.

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4 thoughts on “Gilbert Stuart

  1. Edward Chaney says:

    Hope you got/get to see Berkeley’s house ‘Whitehall’, at nearby Middletown. His doorcase was probly first bit of Palladianism in America; see my gripping ‘George Berkeley’s Grand Tours’ chapter in The Evolution of the Grand Tour… Berkeley also helped introduce portrait painting by bringing Smibert across with him. 

  2. Jocelyn says:

    I don’t know how far west you plan to travel in MA, but I hope you have the chance to visit the Hancock Shaker Village, a truly beautiful and unique place.

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