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On this day in history, July 9, 1828, American painter Gilbert Stuart dies at age 72

Painter Gilbert Stuart, whose distinctive style is the way millions of Americans view the Founding Fathers and other key figures, died on this day in history, July 9, 1828.

Gilbert Stuart, who created portraits of key figures of the American Revolution and in early U.S. history, died on this day in history on July 9, 1828. 

Gilbert’s distinctive portrait style remains the way that modern Americans view many of the Founding Fathers and other figures central to the nation’s formative years, noted George Washington’s Mount Vernon official website. 

"Stuart’s most iconic portrait, the Athenaeum portrait of George Washington, serves as the basis for Washington’s depiction on the American one-dollar bill," said this same source.


Stuart was born on Dec. 3, 1755, in Kingstown, Rhode Island. His parents were Gilbert Stuart Sr. and Elizabeth Anthony. 

His father, a Scottish millwright, immigrated to New England to establish a snuff mill, according to Mount Vernon.

As a child, Stuart spent the early years of his childhood in the mill house.

After the failure of his father’s business, the family moved to Newport, Rhode Island, to a property his mother had inherited, stated the same source. 

While living in Newport, Stuart developed a love for music and drawing, the same source indicated.

Scottish portraitist Cosmo Alexander gave Stuart his earliest training in painting, and Stuart accompanied Alexander to Scotland in 1771, returning home at the older artist's death, according to the National Gallery of Art.

In 1775, on the eve of the American Revolution, Stuart traveled to London. There, he worked for five years (1777-1782) as assistant to the Anglo-American painter Benjamin West. 

Stuart exhibited his work at the Royal Academy from 1777 to 1785, recounted the same source. 

The success of "The Skater," which Stuart painted in 1782, enabled him to establish his own business as a portrait painter, stated the National Gallery of Art.

In 1786, he wed Charlotte Coates, and the following year they went to Dublin, Ireland

There, Stuart painted portraits of the Protestant ruling minority for over five years, according to the same source.

Then, in 1793, Stuart returned to the United States. 

"After the Americans defeated the British in the Revolutionary War, Stuart decided he would return to the newly formed United States and find a way to paint its most famous hero, George Washington," said the White House Historical Association.

He believed that if he could paint Washington, according to the same source, then he would "make a fortune." 

Stuart landed in New York and interacted with several high-profile patrons. 

In 1794, he painted a portrait of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay, who in turn introduced him to other connected clients, recounted the White House Historical Association.

In 1795, Stuart attempted to secure a sitting with President George Washington.

With a letter of introduction from Justice John Jay, he was successful, added the same source.


Stuart left New York and went to Philadelphia to paint his first portrait of President Washington in 1795. 

He disliked this portrait, claiming he was too overwhelmed by the man himself to produce a better likeness, according to Mount Vernon.

"He repainted the portrait from memory in order to improve the piece, but remained dissatisfied with the final product as it had not been painted from life," added the same source.

Stuart again had the opportunity to paint Washington in 1796. 

This time he produced a full-length likeness commissioned by the Marquis of Lansdowne and the Philadelphia socialite Anne Willing Bingham, who had requested that Washington sit for it, said Mount Vernon. 

Martha Washington had also commissioned a portrait of her husband and a matching one of herself, according to Mount Vernon.

This commission led to the most popular artistic depiction of George Washington, known as the Athenaeum portrait, according to the White House Historical Association. 

"Stuart never finished the original, but he used it to make many replicas of the painting, including an 1805 version," said the same source. 

"The original, unfinished painting was sold by Stuart’s daughter to the Boston Athenaeum in 1831. In 1980, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts jointly purchased the painting."

Washington’s likeness from this portrait is now featured on the United States one-dollar bill, according to multiple reports. 

In 1802, Stuart moved his studio to Washington DC where he was immensely popular in the nation’s young capital city and was flooded with requests for portraits from the social and political elite, the National Gallery of Art indicated. 

Stuart painted Dolly Madison in 1804 when her husband James served as Secretary of State; the likeness is regarded as exhibiting "astonishing subtleties … and masterful transitions of tone," according to the White House Historical Association. 

The portrait of Mrs. Madison became part of the White House Collection in 1994. 

Also, Stuart painted a portrait of President Thomas Jefferson in 1805 in Washington, D.C., at the beginning of Jefferson's second term, according to Colonial Williamsburg’s official website.

Throughout his career, Stuart produced portraits of over 1,000 people, including the first six presidents of the United States. 


His work can be found today at art museums across the United States and the United Kingdom, most notably the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, according to the official website of Gilbert Stuart. 

The Gilbert Stuart Museum, at the site of his birthplace in Rhode Island, honors his legacy. 

Founded in 1930, the museum was created to honor the memory of Gilbert Stuart, maintain a museum dedicated to him and promote interest in the knowledge of his life and art, says the Library of Congress. 

In 1966, the Gilbert Stuart Museum was designated a registered national landmark.

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