(b. 1755, North Kingstown, d. 1828, Boston)
Oil on canvas, 77 64 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Gilbert Stuart was a leading painter of his period and earned his livelihood by painting portraits. He enjoyed his first success in London, where he had gone at the beginning of the Revolutionary War in search of sitters; he returned to America in 1793 and painted many prominent people, including the first five American presidents. Even after his exposure to British styles and techniques, he retained the straightforward realism of much of colonial portraiture. His work is characterized by skillful drawing, excellent composition, and a sensitive use of colour.
He painted George Washington for the first time in 1795, and the work was greeted with such enthusiasm that at least 32 replicas were ordered, although only 18 are known to exist. The original painting was the basis for the one seen here, which is among the earliest and finest replicas. It has been suggested that the immediacy and vitality of the president's features indicate that it was painted, at least in part, from life. Stuart's work had a strong influence on many American portrait painters of the early 19th century.