Currently on View in K213
Portrait of A Family, ca. 1783 - 1793
oil on canvas
50 x 40 in.
Gift of Mrs. Herman C. Krannert
Debt resulting from an inability to manage money kept Gilbert Stuart on the move much of his life. Born in North Kingston, Rhode Island and raised in Newport, Stuart was taught by a local Scottish painter who took him to Scotland, but his mentor’s death forced Stuart back to America. During the Revolutionary War, he returned to England to study with the American expatriate Benjamin West. As success came, so did debt which forced Stuart to Dublin, Ireland and then to America, where he eventually became the most highly regarded portraitist of his day. A skillful master of his craft, Stuart painted directly on the canvas, without using any preliminary drawing. By the end of his career, Stuart had painted over a thousand portraits of important political figures. One of his most famous portraits of George Washington was the “Athenaeum Head” currently on the dollar bill.
In this painting, the woman and children are posed against a drawn drape in the style of British portraiture. The similarity of the colors used in the sash, chair, curtain and trim on the young boy’s jacket move the viewer’s eye around the canvas to encompass all the figures. The woman is wearing a simple, elegant, robe à l’anglaise, a gown favored by portrait painters of the period. The woman’s hair is lightly powdered and fashionably styled in the coiffure à l'hérisson, or “hedgehog,” in which the hair was cut short in the front, frizzed to the ends and then brushed up away from the face.
Carrie Rebora Barratt, Ellen Gross Miles. Gilbert Stuart, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004. ISBN-13: 978-1588391247