Gilbert Stuart II

Program Information

Series: A Moment in Time
Duration: 00:03:52
Year Produced: 2010
Description:

In 1793 after eighteen years abroad, prominent portraitist Gilbert Stuart returned to America. There he painted perhaps the most well known American portrait.

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Transcript

Lead: In 1793 after eighteen years abroad, prominent portraitist Gilbert Stuart returned to America. There he painted perhaps the most well known American portrait.

Intro: A Moment In Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Gilbert Stuart was considered by his patrons to be witty, charming and entertaining. He was one of the finest portrait artists of his generation, but his penchant for high living had driven him to debt and exile from his lavish lifestyle in London and then in Dublin. He returned to America with the intention of painting George Washington for the General's European and American admirers.

Stuart painted three commissioned portraits of Washington during 1794-96. The originals and their numerous copies--both by Stuart and other artists--are named after the first owners of the originals: The Landsdowne Portrait is the full-length view; the Vaughn Portrait shows Washington's head and upper body; and the most well known, the unfinished oval "Athenaeum" Portrait, is named for the Boston library that owned it for 150 years. Stuart--much to Washington's frustration--never finished the portraits, kept the originals for himself, and produced about seventy copies. He called them his "hundred dollar bills."

Though Stuart was fond of Washington, apparently the feeling was not mutual. The president dreaded the drudgery of posing for hours at a time and resisted Stuart's chatty attempts at keeping him alert and animated. The artist later commented, "A vacuity spread over his countenance almost appalling to paint." Despite Washington's reluctance, his native strength and dignity somehow emerged through the artist's skill. One can easily check. Since 1869 Stuart's Athenaeum portrait of the first American president has appeared on the one-dollar bill.

The producer of A Moment In Time is Steve Clark. At the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.