Feb
25

Today in Smithsonian History: February 25, 1980

Gilbert Stuart's unfinished Athanaeum portraits of George and Martha Washington

George and Martha Washington (The Athenaeum portraits) Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) / Oil on canvas, 1796 / 76.8 x 64.1 cm (30 1/4 x 25 1/4 in.) National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Owned jointly with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

February 25, 1980 The Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, agree to jointly purchase the unfinished Athenaeum portraits of George and Martha Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart. Stuart was commissioned to paint this portrait after the success of his first portrait of Washington in 1795. Martha Washington convinced the president to sit again because, according to artist Rembrandt Peale, she “wished a Portrait for herself; he therefore consented on the express condition that when finished it should be hers.”

Stuart, however, preferred this portrait to his earlier Washington; he purposely left it and that of the first lady unfinished so that he could use this as a model for the numerous copies that the first president’s admirers commissioned. After Stuart’s death, the two paintings were purchased for the Boston Athenaeum, which owned them for more than 150 years. This image served as the basis for the engraving of Washington on the one-dollar bill.

National Portrait Gallery Director Marvin Sadik of the National Portrait Gallery inspects the portrait of Martha Washington by Gilbert Stuart upon its arrival at the Gallery in 1980. (Photographer unknown)

National Portrait Gallery Director Marvin Sadik of the National Portrait Gallery inspects the portrait of Martha Washington by Gilbert Stuart upon its arrival at the Gallery in 1980. (Photographer unknown)


Posted: 25 February 2017
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