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“George Washington”, The Athenaeum Portrait by Gilbert Stuart

Gilbert Stuart 1796 portrait of Washington

“George Washington”, The Athenaeum Portrait by Gilbert Stuart

“George Washington”  by Gilbert Stuart is a portrait of the first president of the United States and is also known as “The Athenaeum”. It is Stuart’s most celebrated and famous work. Stuart is considered one of America’s foremost portraitist and his best-known work is this unfinished portrait of George Washington. This image of Washington has appeared on the United States one-dollar bill for more than a century and on various U.S. postage stamps.

Stuart painted George Washington in a series of portraits, each of them leading to a demand for copies that kept Stuart busy for years. However, he never completed this original version. After finishing Washington’s face, he held the original version to make the copies. Stuart, along with his daughters, painted over 100 copies of The Athenaeum. This unique portrait was left unfinished at the time of Stuart’s death in 1828.

This famous, unfinished portrait of Washington was eventually owned by the Boston Athenaeum, one of the oldest independent libraries in the United States. The painting was then purchased under controversial circumstance jointly by the National Portrait Gallery and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1980, and the picture spends three years at each institution before being rotated.

Reflections

  • Why was this original never portrait never finished?
  • Why do some unfinished works become famous?

Exploring Portraits

George Washington (The Athenaeum Portrait)

Gilbert Stuart

  • Name:                  Gilbert Charles Stewart
  • Born:                   1755 – Saunderstown, Rhode Island Colony, British America
  • Died:                    1828 (aged 72) – Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
  • Nationality:        American
  • Notable works: