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Posts Tagged ‘Gilbert Stuart’

This post comes to us from Chelsea Dickson, Curatorial Intern.

George Washington, ca. 1800-05. Attributed to Foeiqua (Chinese). Reverse painting on glass, 28 ¼” x 20 ¼”. New Britain Museum of American Art. Gift of Caroline N. Dealy, Frank P. Dealy, Darilyn H. Dealy and Wensley A. Dealy in honor of Caroline H.P. Dealy.

In honor of the anniversary of our nation’s independence, we would like to draw your attention to a particularly fascinating work from the permanent collection, currently on display in the Flora Humphrey Bentley Gallery.  In the corner, you will find a familiar portrait of our first president, George Washington.  While at first glance it looks like an image printed in virtually every U.S. History textbook, it is when looking closer that things get interesting.

This portrait is a copy of Gilbert Stuart’s (1755-1828) unfinished Atheneum portrait of Washington, so-called because it was purchased by the Boston Atheneum to support Stuart’s poverty stricken family after his death.  The original Atheneum portrait was commissioned by Mary Washington but Stuart liked the way he had captured Washington’s likeness so much that he kept it as a model, never delivering it to Mrs. Washington.

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Rembrandt Peale, George Washington, 1824, Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in.

George Washington, 1824. Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860). Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in. New Britain Museum of American Art, Gift of Dr. Timothy McLaughlin.

Rembrandt Peale is known for his portraits of George Washington, one of which the New Britain Museum of American Art is delighted to have as a new acquisition this Presidents month. Rembrandt Peale is supposedly the last artist for whom Washington sat shortly preceding his death. Born in 1778 in Pennsylvania to the famous painter Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), Rembrandt began drawing at age eight. His father tutored him in art and the natural sciences, and he produced his first self-portrait at age thirteen. Peale’s most talented area and source of financial mainstay was painting portraits that were solid, accurate, and straightforward. By 1795, he painted a portrait of George Washington that honestly spoke to the hero’s humanity. Peale greatly admired and was inspired by the work of Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), who is known for his Vaughan and Athenaeum portraits of the first President. (more…)

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Portrait of George Washington, or, The Athenaeum, 1796. Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Oil on canvas, 39.76 × 34.65 in. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

What exactly constitutes a finished work of art? Is it when an artist deems the work is complete? Does a signature mean they have “signed off” on it? What if the completion of a work was prevented by circumstances outside of the artist’s control, such as death? If left incomplete, should it not be displayed? Or do incomplete paintings show us another facet of an artist’s skill?

The emergence of Impressionism during the nineteenth-century challenged the traditional criteria for a finished work. Impressionists were criticized for their loose brushstrokes, dash-like preliminary sketches, and the unfinished look of their canvases. “To attract the attention of his or her contemporaries and to survive in the historical canon, an artist needed to create a personal identity rather than imitate a formulaic style, even if self-reliance and resistance to tradition were regarded as intransigent.”[1] Artists strived to identify their individual style through exhibiting works the historical canon would have regarded as incomplete. Is it valid to argue that a work is unfinished if the artist feels it is complete? (more…)

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