Gilbert Charles Stuart, Portrait Painter

(b. 1755, d. 1828)

Portrait Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

His father, Gilbert Stuart, a native of Perth, left Scotland after the battle of Culloden and settled at Nantucket, Rhode Island, in 1746, where he managed a snuff manufactory started by Dr. Charles Moffatt.

He married Elizabeth, daughter of John Anthony, a farmer at Newport, Rhode Island, originally from Wales; and of this marriage was born, on the 3rd December, 1755, at Narragansett, Rhode island, Gilbert Stuart, the artist. His baptism is thus recorded in the register of St, Paul's Church, Narragansett: "April 4th, 1756, being Palm Sunday, Dr. McSparran .... baptized a child named Gilbert Stewart, son of Gilbert Stewart the snuff-grinder." In this entry the spelling of the surname differs from that used by the painter himself and his father, and "Charles" as a Christian name is not given. "Charles" was probably afterwards added by his father, who, like his friend Dr. Moffatt, was a staunch Jacobite. The painter himself in after years in England used the two names; many of the prints after his pictures, notably those of Irish personages done by C. H. Hodges, were inscribed as painted by "C. G. Stuart." In the Royal Academy Catalogue for 1777 his name is given as "G. C. Stuart," but subsequently as "G. Stuart." For some reason, which cannot be explained, his name appears as "Gabriel Stuart" on three mezzotints after his pictures.

At about the age of 13 Stuart began to copy pictures and later attempted, with some success, portraits in pencil. Meeting with Cosmo Alexander, a Scotch painter then at Rhode Island, he took lessons from him, and in 1772 he was allowed by his father to accompany him to Scotland. Soon after their arrival, Alexander died, and Stuart was left to shift for himself. He entered the Glasgow University, but after struggling for a while he returned to America, working his passage in a collier. He resumed painting, employing as a model a blacksmith to whom he gave half a dollar to sit in his studio every evening. One of his first portraits was that of his mother.

In June, 1775, he again left America, and feeling confident in his own powers went to London, where he found a friend and instructor in his fellow-countryman Benjamin West, R.A. He exhibited a "Portrait of a Gentleman" at the Royal Academy in 1777. Soon afterwards he entered West's studio and remained with him until 1782, when he set up a studio of his own in Berners Street, afterwards moving to New Burlington Street. On the 10th May, 1786, he married Charlotte Coates, daughter of a Berkshire physician. Stuart exhibited portraits at the Royal Academy in 1777, 1779, 1781, 1782 and 1785.

He attained considerable success as a portrait painter, made a good income, and his reputation as an artist was increasing; but he lived extravagantly, delighted in entertaining his friends, and soon became involved in such difficulties that, to escape from his creditors and the Fleet, he found it prudent to leave London. Accordingly he made his way to Dublin where he arrived in 1789. His reputation as a portrait painter immediately secured him a large practice, and he had among his sitters most of the prominent personages of the time in Ireland. His portraits of the "Duke of Leinster," "John Beresford," "William Brownlow," "William Burton-Conyngham," "Lord Fitzgibbon," "Henry Grattan" and "John Foster, the Speaker," were engraved in mezzotint by C. H. Hodges, who came to Dublin for the purpose, and were published by George Cowan of Grafton Street. He had a country house at Stillorgan where he amused himself with farming and gardening; but he was always deeply in debt, and for a short time, in 1790, was in a debtor's prison. Anxious to escape from his embarrassment he strove to make a sufficient sum to enable him to return to America; and at length, early in the year 1793, he left Ireland. His departure is referred to in the "Dublin Chronicle" of 19th March, 1793.*

In the winter of that year he opened his studio in New York, and after working there and in Philadelphia and Washington, he settled in Boston where he spent the rest of his life. He painted most of the leading Americans of his time, including three Presidents: Washington, Adams and Jefferson. Of Washington he did a great number of portraits; but only three were actually taken from life. The first sitting given him was in 1795, in Philadelphia, for a bust portrait which became the property of Samuel Vaughan, and now belongs to Mrs. Joseph Harrison of New York. A replica belongs to Mr. Charles Henry Hart of Philadelphia. In 1796 he painted the full-length now in the Pennsylvania Academy; a replica of this, known as the "Lansdowne Portrait," belongs to Lord Rosebery. The third portrait is that, a head only, in the Boston Athenaeum. In 1795 Stuart had a rough list of thirty-two gentlemen "who were to have copies of the President of the United States." The third, or Athenaeum portrait, is that from which the painter made most of his copies or adaptations, and all three pictures were freely copied by various artists, especially by Stuart's daughter, Jane. In 1802 Stuart sent from Philadelphia two portraits, unnamed, to the exhibition in the Parliament House, Dublin.

In his latter years he suffered from broken health and straitened circumstances. He died at Boston on the 10th July, 1828, and was buried in the Old Cemetery at Newport, Rhode Island. In the same grave were also buried his wife, Charlotte Coates, who died on 1st September, 1847, aged 77, and his fourteen children. A monument, with inscription, was "erected by friends" in 1892.

Stuart was an artist of much power; his portraits are well painted and are good in colour; robust and vigorous in modelling, they show an insight into character, a faculty he prided himself in possessing. He had a high estimate of his own powers, was vain and self-opinionated, impatient of criticism and very independent, always refusing to alter a portrait to please a sitter. "A painter," he said, "may give up his art if he attempts to alter to please; it cannot be done." He worked rapidly, but it was often difficult to get him to finish his pictures. On his departure from Ireland he left many portraits unfinished; "the artists of Dublin will get employed in finishing them," he said. Most of his work is in America, where he continued painting until his death; and in spite of his age and infirmities some of his last productions had all the vigour and brilliancy of his prime. His Irish portraits, owing probably to an unappreciative public and absence of competition, were not painted with the same care as those he did in England and America. He occasionally painted miniatures. Two of the Princess Charlotte of Wales were in the Guelph Exhibition in 1891; others attributed to him are in America, but it is probable that some, at least, of these are copies from his pictures done by Benjamin Trott or Walter Robertson.

Stuart was 5 ft. 10 in. in height, with ruddy complexion and strongly marked features, bearing some resemblance to John Kemble whom he affected to imitate in his manner of speaking. Notwithstanding his irritable disposition, his biting sarcasm and keen and searching eye, he was a favourite with women and was very successful in rendering their portraits.

A portrait of him by Sarah Goodrich was engraved by A. B. Durand, with fac-simile autograph G. C. Stuart.

His daughter, JANE STUART, was an artist of much ability and assisted him in his work during his latter years. She made innumerable copies of her father's Washington portraits, many of which pass as originals. Three articles by her upon her father's life and works are in "Scribner's Magazine," Vols. XII, XIII and XIV. She died at Newport on 27th April, 1888.

The following pictures were painted in England and Ireland:

Sir William Barker, Bart. [T. B. Ponsonby, Kilcooley Abbey, Co. Tipperary.]

Lady Barker, wife of above, seated at a tambour frame. [T. B. Ponsonby, Kilcooley Abbey.]

Sir William Barker, Bart. Painted in 1791. [T. B. Ponsonby, Kilcooley Abbey.]

Colonel Isaac Barré. [ National Portrait Gallery.] Painted in 1785; engraved by John Hall, 1787. (c. G. Stuart.)

Admiral Samuel Barrington. R.A., 1785. Christie's, 15th December, 1912.

Thomas, 1st Earl of Bective. [T. B. Ponsonby, Kilcooley Abbey.]

Rt. Hon. John Beresford. Engraved in mezzotint by C. H. Hodges (C. G. Stuart), and published by G. Cowan in Dublin and London.

Lady Catherine Beresford.—See Power.

Sir Richard Bickerton, Admiral. [Earl of Sandwich, Hinchinbroke.]

General Bowles. Was in collection of Lord Fitzgerald and Vesci sold in Dublin by A. Jones in August, 1843.

Alderman Boydell. Engraved by Facius, 1802; and by H. Meyer for Caddel and Davis's "Contemporary Portraits," 1814. Sold at Christie's, 19th July, 1907.

William Brownlow. [Lord Lurgan.] Engraved by C. H. Hodges, 1792. (C. G. Stuart.) Belonged to his daughter the Dowager Viscountess Powerscourt in 1844. A copy or replica belongs to Lord De Vesci.

William Burton-Conyngham. [National Gallery of Ireland.] Engraved in mezzotint by C. H. Hodges, 1792 (C. G. Stuart), and in line by L. Schiavonetti in J.C.Murphy's "Batalha," 1795.

Hugh Carleton, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, Ireland. [Earl of Normanton, Somerley, Ringwood, Hants.]

Henry, Earl of Carnarvon. [Earl of Carnarvon.] Engraved by W. Ward, 1795; "painted by Gainsborough and Stuart."

Earl of Clare.—See Fitzgibbon.

Euseby Cleaver, Bishop of Cork, afterwards Archbishop of Dublin. Engraved in mezzotint by J. Grozer, 1790.

Charlotte Olive, daughter of Lord Clive. Painted in 1784.

John, 1st Earl of Clonmell. [Earl of Normanton, Somerley, Hants.] Painted in 1790. Lord Clonmell, in his Private Diary, records: "14th Sept., 1790. I have had a picture painted by Stuart and lost a fourth front tooth"; and, on 29th October, "This day Stuart's pictures came home."

G. F. Cooke. [Garrick Club.] Painted in America.

William C. Cruikshank, surgeon. Engraved by W. Say, 1801.

Thomas, 1st Lord Dartrey. R.A., 1785.

Lucius Dawson; died 1795. [B. T. Balfour, Townley Hall, Drogheda.]

Thomas, 1st Viscount De Vesci. [Viscount De Vesci, Abbeyleix.]

Sir John Dick, of Braid. [Sir R. K. A. Dick-Cunningham, Bart.]

Richard Earlom, engraver. Engraved in mezzotint by T. Lupton, 1819.

Admiral Edwards. [Earl of Sandwich, Hinchinbroke.]

Fanny, Lady Erskine. Engraved by J. Cochran for "Court Magazine," 1835.

Charles Farran. [Miss Farran, Highfield Manor, Whitechurch, Co. Dublin.]

Mrs. Charles Farran, née Lambert. [Miss Farran, Highfield Manor, Whitechurch, Co. Dublin.]

John, Lord Fitzgibbon, afterwards Earl of Clare. [Examination Hall, Trinity College, Dublin.] Engraved in mezzotint by C. H. Hodges, 1790 (C. G. Stuart); also, half-length only by W. Sedgwick, folio, stipple. A copy of the picture is in the King's Inns.

John Foster, Speaker. [Viscount Massereene.] Painted in 1791. Engraved in mezzotint by C. H. Hodges. 1792 (C. G. Stuart). The publisher, G. Cowan, 84 Grafton Street, Dublin, announced in "Saunders' Newsletter," April, 1791, that he had "obtained permission from the Rt. Hon. J. Foster, Speaker, to have a plate engraved by Hodges from a capital whole-length picture now painting of him by Mr. Stuart." Engraved also, bust only, in stipple by P. Maguire, and published in 1799 by Henecy and Fitzpatrick.

John Fothergill, M.D. R.A., 1781. Engraved in mezzotint by V. Green, 1781 (G. Stuart).

Captain Gell. R.A., 1785.

W. Grant, of Congleton, skating in St. James's Park. [Lord Charles Pelham Clinton.] R.A., 1782.

Henry Grattan. [Sir Henry Grattan Bellew, Bart.] Engraved in mezzotint by G. H. Hodges, 1792 (C. G. Stuart). Exhibited at South Kensington in 1867, by Judge Berwick. Bequeathed by Mrs. Berwick to the Hon. Mrs. Grattan Bellew of Tinnehinch.

John Hall, engraver. [National Portrait Gallery.] Painted in 1785.

Captain John Harvey, R.N. Engraved in mezzotint by John Murphy, 1795.

George Hamilton, Baron of the Exchequer. [Mrs. Ormsby Hamilton, Killiney Castle.]

Mrs. Hamilton, wife of foregoing. [Mrs. Ormsby Hamilton, Killiney Castle.]

Hugh Hamilton, Bishop of Ossory. [Miss Hewett, Milford-on-Sea.] Engraved in stipple by W. Evans, 1807, as frontispiece to his "Works."

Mrs. Hamilton. [Miss Hewett, Milford-on-Sea.]

John Henderson, as Iago. Engraved by Bartolozzi.

George Holman. [Garrick Club.]

John Jay, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in America. Painted in London, but not finished; completed by Trumbull. Stuart afterwards painted Jay in America.

Sir John Jervis.—See St. Vincent.

John P. Kemble. [National Portrait Gallery.] Engraved by S. Freeman for "The Monthly Mirror," 1797; in mezzotint by E. Pinkerton, and anonymously in Smeeton's "The Unique," 1824.

John P. Kemble, as Richard III. [Sir Henry Halford.] Engraved in mezzotint by George Keating, 1788 (Gab. Stuart); by H. Meyer for "The Cabinet"; by Ridley for "The Monthly Mirror," Feb., 1797, and by Thornthwaite for Bell's "British Theatre."

William Robert, Duke of Leinster. [Duke of Leinster, Carton.] Engraved in mezzotint by C. H. Hodges, 1792 (C. G. Stuart). The engraving does not exactly follow the picture.

Charles Powell Leslie, M.P. [Sir John Leslie, Bart., Glasslough, Co. Monaghan.]

William Locker. Lt.-Governor of Greenwich Hospital. [Greenwich Hospital.] Engraved by H. T. Ryall for Locker's "Naval Commanders," 1832; and by W. Ridley for "Naval Chronicle," 1801.

George, Earl Macartney. [Earl of Normanton, Somerley, Hants.]

Thomas Malton. Engraved in mezzotint by John Jones, 1790 (C. G. Stuart), and by W. W. Barney, 1806 (Gab. Stuart).

George, 4th Duke of Manchester. Engraved by J . Collyer, 1794, from the picture then in possession of Dr. Hayes; and in mezzotint by John Jones, 1790 (C. G. Stuart).

Captain Hugh Moore. [H. Armytage Moore.] Reproduced in Sir Edward Sullivan's "Memoirs of Buck Whaley."

Charles, Earl of Normanton, Archbishop of Dublin, when Lord Somerton. [Earl of Normanton, Somerley, Hants.] Engraved in mezzotint by W. Say.

Jane, Countess of Normanton. [Earl of Normanton, Somerley, Hants.]

Hugh, 2nd Duke of Northumberland. Engraved in mezzotint by C. Turner, and published in 1804, when the picture belonged to Alexander Davison; and in stipple by E. Scriven for "Le Beau Monde," 1808.

Thomas Paine. Sold in Dublin by Littledale, auctioneer, in May, 1842.

Edward Sexton, Viscount Pery. [Earl of Ranfurly, Northland House.]

Edward Sexton, Viscount Pery. Engraved in mezzotint by W. Say, (Gabriel Stuart). Apparently a different picture from above.

Chambre Brabazon Ponsonby, afterwards Barker. [T. B. Ponsonby, Kilcooley Abbey, Co. Tipperary.]

Lady Catherine Power, daughter of James Power, 3rd and last Earl of Tyrone, wife of Sir Marcus Beresford. In collection of B. Watkins, dealer. Sold in Dublin in November, 1850.

William Preston, Bishop of Kildare. Engraved in mezzotint by W. Dickenson.

Sir Joshua Reynolds. Painted in 1784. Engraved in stipple by Facius as frontispiece to H. W. Beechey's "Literary Works of Reynolds," 1835; and by E. Scriven, 1802.

Admiral Thomas Macnamara Russell. Engraved in stipple by H. R. Cook, 1806.

John, Earl St. Vincent. Engraved in mezzotint by J. R. Smith (Gabriel Stuart); and by W. Barnard, 1798 (G. Stuart). Also by Ridley for "Monthly Mirror," March, 1797.

Dominick Serres. R.A., 1782.

Robert Shaw, of Terenure, M.P. (not his son, Sir Robert, 1st Bart., as stated by Chaloner Smith). [Mrs. Shaw Darley, Belfast.] Engraved in mezzotint by W. Ward, 1797 (G. Stewart). Published by Allen, Dublin.

Robert Shaw. A replica of last. [Sir Frederick Shaw, Bart., Bushy Park, Terenure.]

Robert Shaw. A replica, or copy. [National Gallery of Ireland.]

Molyneux, Lord Shuldham, Admiral. [Earl of Sandwich, Hinchinbroke.]

Charles, Lord Somerton.—See Normanton.

Admiral Staples. [Earl of Sandwich, Hinchinbroke.]

Sir Robert Staples, 7th Bart. [T. B. Ponsonby, Kilcooley Abbey.]

Helen, Lady Stronge, née Tew. [Sir James Stronge, Tynan Abbey, Co. Armagh.]

Thomas, 1st Viscount Sydney. Exhibited at South Kensington in 1867 by Viscount Sydney. Engraved by J. Young.

Benjamin West, R.A. [National Portrait Gallery.] Painted for Alderman Boydell. R.A., 1786. Engraved by Caroline Watson, 1786.

Caleb Whitefoorde. R.A., 1782.

William Woollett, engraver. [National Portrait Gallery.] Engraved by Caroline Watson, 1785.

A Lady and Child. [Lord Massy.]

Signing of the Treaty of Peace. [Lord Belper, Kingston, Derby.] An unfinished picture, attributed to Benjamin West, but probably by Stuart. The portrait in it of John Jay is identical with Stuart's unfinished head, noted above.

NOTE: * Before Stuart two other American painters had come to Ireland: Henry Pelham, an account of whom is given on page 225, and Matthew Pratt. Pratt was born in Philadelphia on 23rd September, 1734, and was apprenticed to his maternal uncle, James Claypoole, the first native-born American painter, from whom he learned "all the difficult branches of the painting business, particularly portrait painting." About 1764 he went to England and became a pupil of Benjamin West. In 1770 he came to Ireland, where he arrived on 28th April, and remained there until 8th June. He was the guest of Archdeacon Isaac Mann, whose portrait he painted. In his Diary he says: "I painted it at full-length, as large as life, in his canonicals and robes, and took a lucky opportunity that offered itself at that time of placing it in a public exhibition that was to be made by the Society of Artists of the City of Dublin in the present month .... and had the pleasure of being presented with a catalogue and ticket of admission to the exhibition while it lasted." The picture must have been sent in too late to be included in the catalogue, which has no entry of any exhibit by Pratt. On leaving Dublin Pratt returned to Philadelphia, where he died on 9th January, 1805.

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