He painted George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, as well as the kings of England and France; was known to take months and years before finishing a portrait; and his works can be seen in museums across the globe. His name was Gilbert Stuart, and there’s a good chance you have seen his work before. In this episode of Mountaintop History, Monticello Guide Kyle Chattleton shares the story of Gilbert Stuart and one of his most famous works.
This is Mountaintop History, a podcast from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at historic Monticello. My name is Kyle Chattleton.
He painted George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, as well as the kings of England and France; was known to take months and years before finishing a portrait; and his works can be seen in museums across the globe. His name was Gilbert Stuart, and there’s a good chance you have seen his work before. Washington’s image on the one dollar bill, for example, is based on one of Stuart’s paintings. Stuart produced over a thousand portraits throughout his life, and left a lasting legacy.
Gilbert Charles Stuart was born in 1755 in the British colony of Rhode Island. He began painting at a young age while living in Newport. And at the onset of the American Revolutionary War, he left to live and paint in London. There he found success and acclaim, in particular with works like The Skater and a portrait of Captain John Gell. He also lived in Scotland for a time before journeying to the United States of America in 1793. He was intent on painting a portrait of President George Washington, believing that it could lead to financial success. And so it did. After painting both George and Martha Washington, commissions came from across American society.
Among them, Thomas Jefferson commissioned three portraits from Stuart. In 1805, for example, Jefferson sat for what would later be known as the “Edgehill” portrait. It depicts the then-President of the United States wearing black with a white collar, his head turned toward the viewer. Behind him is a stark greenish-grey background.
Stuart took his time delivering this portrait to Jefferson, specifically sixteen years. Afterward, it spent some time at the Jefferson Randolph family home at Edgehill, hence the name of the painting.
Today, the “Edgehill” portrait is jointly owned by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, and the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, who share the work every few years. Recently, the painting was once again delivered back to Monticello after spending some time in Washington, D.C. It currently hangs in the Parlor, where visitors can see it today.
This has been another edition of Mountaintop History, a collaboration between WTJU and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. To learn more, and to plan your next visit, go to our website at Monticello.org.