Behind the camera: Gilbert Stuart
Where: Gilbert Stuart’s studio in Germantown, Pennsylvania, near and now part of the city Philadelphia
Photo Summary: George Washington
Picture Taken: 1796
This image is in the public domain because of its age
In the aftermath of the American revolution, George Washington emerged as an iconic hero that led the new nation of America to Independence. He was the first elected President and images of him were in huge demand. One portrait artist Gilbert Stuart did a series of famous paintings as part of a series on Washington. This one, titled The Athenaeum, was commissioned in 1796 and become the basis for the American one dollar bill
Painting the portrait
By 1796 Washington was over 60 years old. For campaign reasons starting in 1789, he had been wearing dentures that were awkward to hold in his mouth. His first pairs were ill-fitting resulting in his face becoming sunken around the mouth. To fill out his face and provide a more natural look in this portrait Stuart ordered a larger pair of dentures and used cotton to expand his mouth area. The painting was commissioned by Washington’s wife Martha who was delighted in Stuart’s first portrait of Washington (Now called the Vaughan Portrait). Stuart never actually finished the original Athenaeum, for Martha, but created many copies that he did finish and sell to eager buyers.
Washington would occasionally come around the studio to demand the painting be finished and handed over but Stuart never did and it remained unfinished until Stuart’s death in 1828. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston eventually came into possession of the painting where it remains to this day.
The American one dollar bill
This portrait was chosen to be printed on the American one dollar in the 1928 series and hasn’t changed since although other aspects of the bill have been tweaked and adjusted from time to time. The one dollar bill is the most common bill of currency and of all the notes printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, one dollar notes make up about 45% of currency production.
Gilbert Stuart was born in Saunderstown, Rhode Island on December 3, 1755. He showed his talents at a young age and trained under the Scottish artist, Cosmo Alexander. He quickly became a famed artist that painted over a thousand people in his lifetime including the first six Presidents of the United States. He became was one of 18th century America ‘s master portrait artists and his home is now a museum that showcases his life.