National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Skater (Portrait of William Grant) Gilbert Stuart (painter)
American, 1755 - 1828
The Skater (Portrait of William Grant), 1782
oil on canvas
overall: 245.5 x 147.4 cm (96 5/8 x 58 1/16 in.) framed: 274.3 x 177.2 x 9.5 cm (108 x 69 3/4 x 3 3/4 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
On View
From the Tour: British and American Grand Manner Portraits of the 1700s
Object 12 of 12

Activity of any kind was without precedent in Grand Manner society portraiture, so this startlingly vigorous image caused a sensation at London’s Royal Academy exhibition of 1782. As Stuart said of this epoch-making work, his first full-length portrait, he was “suddenly lifted into fame by a single picture.”

The artist later recalled that when the Scotsman William Grant, from Congalton near Edinburgh, arrived for his first posing session, he observed to Stuart that “the day was better suited for skating than sitting for one’s portrait.” To this the painter assented, and they both sallied out to their morning’s amusement. Their ensuing sport on the frozen Serpentine in Hyde Park, with the twin towers of Westminster Abbey in the distance, gave Stuart the idea for this unusually candid likeness. (In true Grand Manner tradition, though, Stuart did derive the figure’s basic stance from an ancient nude statue, the Apollo Belvedere, merely adding modern winter clothes and ice skates.)

With black and white clothing and a ruddy complexion, Grant stands in stark contrast to the dull, icy gray setting. The daring design and fresh theme were so successful that young Stuart was able immediately to set up his own London studio. Many of Stuart’s later portraits, painted after he returned to the United States in 1793, are in the Gallery’s collection.

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