National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of John Adams Gilbert Stuart (painter)
American, 1755 - 1828
John Adams, c. 1800/1815
oil on canvas
overall: 73.7 x 61 cm (29 x 24 in.) framed: 97.5 x 84.5 x 10.8 cm (38 3/8 x 33 1/4 x 4 1/4 in.)
Gift of Mrs. Robert Homans
On View
From the Tour: Gilbert Stuart
Object 5 of 5

John Adams was vice president during both of George Washington's terms and served as chief executive himself from 1797 to 1801. This likeness was begun in Philadelphia during his presidency, and shows Adams at sixty-five years of age; however, like its companion portrait, Abigail Smith Adams, it was not finished until fifteen years after the couple sat for Stuart.

Although the second president was a patient sitter, the impish painter later delighted in telling a friend, "Isn't it like? Do you know what he is about to do? He is about to sneeze!" (Both the artist and the sitter habitually used snuff.)

In this sketch from life, soft brushstrokes merely suggest rustling movement and indistinct contours in the hair and lace. The portrait subtly expresses the inquisitive, analytic aspects of Adams' character; seated low in the composition, he confronts the viewer directly.

The pose of this first study of Adams inspired Stuart's replica in the Gibbs-Coolidge Set of the first five presidents. Adams, wearing a charcoal gray coat in this life portrait, wears a crimson jacket in the more carefully finished replica.

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