Saturday, August 8, 2009

Gilbert Stuart

Gilbert Stuart 1783-1872 images from

Continuing with the theme of the American tradition I am showing Gilbert Stuart tonight. Stuart is the first American painter, historically that I really enjoy. I know Copley was important and I like his work well enough, but I love Stuart. The silvery tonality and the brushwork almost Sargentlike in appearance captivated me the first time I saw the originals in the Boston museum which has a a lot of them. I carry a small reproduction of a Stuart portrait in my pocket almost always.
Like Copley, Stuart has a tobacco connection, he was born in his familys snuff mill. He was known to use fabulous quantities of snuff. He was also sort of a rounder, He would take commissions with money up front to do a portrait and not do it.

Stuart, from Rhode Island, studied in England with American ex patriot Benjamin West. After six years he returned to first Philadelphia and then to Boston. He painted over a thousand portraits and is I think second only to Sargent as an American portrait painter. Below is one of his numerous Washington portraits. He kept the originals made from nature and sold the copies he made from them.

You are probably wondering why I am showing you all of these early American portraits. I am doing it because the American tradition began here.These are paintings made for sucessful merchants and not kings or queens. That is a theme we have seen before in this blog that I wrote about here. American painting, like Dutch painting was a democratic art, made for commoners not kings or the church. The preferences of these common men led first to portraits and from there to landscape a generation later.

Stuart was not a very good manager of his finances and died, like Copley, deep in debt. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Boston Commons. Years after his death his family having recovered financially enough to bury him in a marked grave couldn't remember exactly where he had been interred.

Again I must teach tomorrow so I will close. Tomorrow the father of American landscape painting, Thomas Cole.


Unknown said...

Wow, keep the good stuff coming, I love Gilbert Stuart, I hope they never take him off the dollar. Hope you got to see the show at the Met a few years ago, it was incredible. I would go so far as to say he is America's greatest painter (well, that was my impression after seeing the show, one might have to narrow it to the 18th century). But that is just my opinion, and it doesn't take into consideration landscape and other genres as a requiring special consideration unto themselves - blah, blah, anyway...
I love your blog, keep the good stuff coming.

Marc R. Hanson said...

Great blog Stapleton! We've never met but have some links that are interesting. I live next to Mary P up in Taylors Falls, and I "used" to send paintings to Broden Gallery in Madison where I know you show or used to.

Anyway, what I enjoy most about your blog is that it's so oriented towards education and 'spilling the beans' about what we do. There isn't enough of that in the art world we're inhabiting. I try in my own little way to do that to, especially in my classes. I put together a 14 page booklet for a class about 'Support and Materials Terminology'. I explained all about various supports, primers, glues and the pros/cons of them all. The Terminology portion is because I'm tired of new painters calling OMS "Turps" or using a "Turps container" that is full of mineral spirits, of Acrylic primer being called "Gesso", etc, etc.. Kind of a bone I like to pick, with good reason. Try doing silverpoint on Dick Blick's "Gesso"... won't work if it's the acrylic emulsion product that they call gesso. But students and younger painters don't know that and the wrong terminology leads to mis-understanding in our field. Nothing that is going to steer a Boeing 757 into the drink, but is annoying none the less.

Also, I've just recently purchased the 'knock off' of the Take It easel. I know, shame on me. But it's so cheap that in order to get my butt out there and to get rid of the little itsy bitsy panel painting syndrome, I got one. The Take It is a lot of $$$ right now. I also built an 18x24 paintbox out of oak and believe me it's heavy!!! There are pics on my blog if you're interested.

The kicker is that I did this all before running into your website. I've wanted to work larger for many years, and do occasionally, up to 24x30. But the equipment was always make shift and not conducive to making it a regular habit. The impetus for me to finally commit to this was being in Telluride, CO this year for their PA Fest and meeting a painter from WI, Ken DeWaard. He met a painter in Easton, Tim Bell who convinced him to get one an watching him work on it in CO convinced me. Ken had a large paintbox that he made so when I got back here to MN I went to Menard's and went to work.

But you're blog on the subject has provided so much info that it's a real treat to have bookmarked. I just received a small 'try it' order from RGH and the paint looks very good, especially for the price.

Well enough for now. Thanks for the time you take in doing this. I'm a follower....

Marc Hanson
Taylors Falls, MN

Marc R. Hanson said...

Geez, apologize for the spelling, rushed it.

I just noticed that you were born in Rochester! I lived there for 25 yrs before moving up here in '05!

Unknown said...

Stape, Marc is a great painter. Check out his blog.

And thank you for taking the time to trace American painting back to its roots for us. It is not only informative, but is helping me see the uniqueness of American painting.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, when I did the top 10 artists list I ran the names by a few friends. They were really surprised to see had chosen to add Gilbert Stuart. WE painters of today look a lot at the 19th century but not enough before that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks for the pat on the back. The point of the blog was or is nto write down all ofd the basic information a that I could think of on painting.

Please say hello to Mary Rose for me!

The Beauport easel is put together wrong out of the box. Were you able to rebuild it? There are about 5 fatal errors in that easel, but a half an hours work will right them. I am working on the old take it easel and have for many years.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have been to his blog before.He is a fine painter.In Minnesota! We have a number of things in common. Tonight I must do the Cole chapter.

StimmeDesHerzens said...

Stuart is also my favorite guy, I delve a little more deeply into him so you might be interested in knowing about my blog....

labrown said...

Is the one of GW the one at the Frick Collection? If so, I was lucky enough to see it today while in NYC. It was a Stuart but I know several of GW were made. Regards, /Lee