Posted by: catailsandotherfoundthings | March 8, 2010

George Washington by Vaughn

From the Worlds Most Beautiful Paintings – Copyright 1966 by R.T.V. Sales Shorewood Reproductions.

If you have ever been in the White house or any other State Capitol Building across American for that matter you would have seen the many beautiful traditional paintings and portraits of those that have held office there or of the other great Americans who have fought for our nation.

One of my favorite portraits is that of George Washington in “The Corcoran Gallery of Art” in Washington D.C. It was painted by Gilbert Stuart a Great American Painter who lived from 1755 – 1828. Gilbert Stuart was born in Newport Rhode Island, the son of an insignificant snuff-grinder. As a boy, Stuart was fairly wild and given to boyish pranks, but he was already painting on commission by the time he was fourteen. Prominent citizens of Newport sent him to study with Cosmo Alexander, a visiting Scottish portrait artist who took the gifted Stuart back to Edinburgh with him in 1770. Two years later, artist in a manner that proved that he had not absorbed the elegant techniques of 18th century British and Scottish Artists. When the American Revolution broke out, Stuart left for London where upon discovering that his rough American style did not please the English, he studied with Benjamin West; learning from him how to paint the glean of satin and silk and the translucence of flesh.

When Stuart opened his own studio, he was phenomenally and very rapidly successful, for West’s training had opened the path to his own natural genius. Stuart, however was an excessively nervous man and he began to drink heavily to quiet his nerves. Stuart, however was excessively led to debt and to avoid debtors prison, he fled from Great Britain and returned to the United States in the winter of 1782-1783.

Once in his own country and freed from the necessity of competition with the English artists, Stuart who once said that “Flesh is like no other substance under heaven” could paint portraits as he saw fit; almost totally eliminating backgrounds and bodies to concentrate on physiognomy and character, achieving his effects by his brilliant treatment of the skin tones. The Vaughn portrait of George Washington exemplified the necessary qualities of leadership; he has no need for symbols or decorations to indicate either his rank or his greatness. That this portrait still symbolizes the underlying principles of the Constitution of the Bill of Rights is proof enough that Stuart had translated into art the ideals of the founding fathers; he had transmuted what he learned in Europe into something uniquely American.

This excerpt was taken from 100 of the World’s Most Beautiful Paintings, 1996.


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