Overview

In 1775, Gilbert Stuart set sail for London where Benjamin West welcomed the destitute young man into his home. The Skater marks the end of his five-year apprenticeship to West. Stuart's first effort at full-length portraiture, its originality brought the artist so much notice at the 1782 Royal Academy exhibition that he soon set up his own studio.

The unorthodox motif of skating -- indeed, any presentation of vigorous movement at all -- had absolutely no precedent in Britain's "Grand Manner" tradition of life-size society portraiture. The painter recalled that when William Grant, from Congalton near Edinburgh, arrived to have his picture painted, the Scottish sitter remarked that, "on account of the excessive coldness of the weather . . . the day was better suited for skating than sitting for one's portrait." Thus artist and sitter went off to skate on the Serpentine River in Hyde Park. When he returned to West's studio with Grant, Stuart conceived the idea of portraying his subject on ice skates in a winter landscape, with the twin towers of Westminster Abbey far in the distance.

In this innovative design, Grant glides effortlessly forward with arms crossed over his chest in typical eighteenth-century skating form. Except for his folded arms, the figure's stance derives from an ancient Roman statue, the Apollo Belvedere, a cast of which stood in the corner of West's studio.

Inscription

Marks and Labels

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Provenance

The sitter, William Grant [d. 1821], Congalton, Scotland, and Cheltenham, England; his son, William Grant [d. 1827], Congalton, Scotland, and London; his daughter, Elizabeth Grant [Mrs. Charles Pelham-Clinton, d. 1899];[1] her son, Charles Stapleton Pelham-Clinton [1857-1911], Moor Park, Stroud, Gloucestershire;[2] his widow, Elizabeth Pelham-Clinton [d. 1946], London and Holmes Green, Buckinghamshire; her niece and adopted daughter, Georgiana Elizabeth May Pelham-Clinton [Mrs. John Stuart Bordewich, b. 1913] London; sold 1950 to the NGA.

Exhibition History

1782
Royal Academy, London, 1782, no. 190, as Portrait of a gentleman skating
1878
Exhibition of Works by Old Masters, and by Deceased Masters of the British School, Royal Academy, London, 1878, no. 128, as Portrait of W. Grant, Esq., of Congalton, Skating in St. James Park, attributed to Thomas Gainsborough
1946
American Painting from the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day, Tate Gallery, London, 1946, no. 206
1963
Style, Truth, and the Portrait, Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, 1963, no. 38
1967
Gilbert Stuart, Portraitist of the Young Republic, 1755-1828, National Gallery of Art; Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 1967, no. 8
1976
American Art: 1750-1800, Towards Independence, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1976, no. 44
1981
American Portraiture in the Grand Manner: 1720-1920, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1981-1982, no. 21.
2001
Great British Paintings from American Collections: Holbein to Hockney, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven; The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, 2001-2002, no. 35, repro.
2004
Gilbert Stuart, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; National Gallery of Art (for the National Portrait Gallery), Washington, D.C., 2004-2005, no. 6, repro.

Bibliography

1782
"Candid." Letter to the Editor. The Morning Chronicle, and London Advertiser (9 May 1782): 2.
1782
"Postscript. Account of the Exhibition of Paintings, &c. at the Royal Academy." St. James Chronicle, or British Evening Post, 2-4 May 1782: 4.
1782
"Royal Academy, 1782. Fourteenth Exhibition." The Morning Chronicle, and London Advertiser (30 April 1782): 3.
1816
Jouett, Matthew Harris. "Notes Taken by M. H. Jouett while in Boston from Conversations on painting with Gilbert Stuart Esqr." Manuscript, published in Gilbert Stuart and His Pupils, by John Hill Morgan. New York, 1816: 86, 87.
1834
Dunlap 1834, 1:183-184.
1846
Lester, C. Edwards. The Artists of America. New York, 1846: 126.
1877
Stuart, Jane. "The Youth of Gilbert Stuart." Scribner's Monthly 13, no. 5 (March 1877): 642.
1878
"The Old Masters at Burlington House. Second Notice." The Illustrated London News 72, no. 2012 (January 19, 1878): 66.
1878
"The Old Masters at Burlington House. Third Notice." The Illustrated London News 72, no. 2013 (January 26, 1878): 91.
1878
"The Old Masters at the Royal Academy." Saturday Review 45, no. 1159 (January 12, 1878): 50.
1879
Mason, George C. The Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart. New York, 1879: 187-190.
1880
"Portraits Painted by Stuart...taken from Mason's Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart." In Exhibition of Portraits Painted by Gilbert Stuart. Exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1880: 41, no. 268.
1883
Quincy, Josiah. Figures of the Past from the Leaves of Old Journals. 4th ed. Boston, 1883: 84.
1926
Park 1926, 34, 358-359, no. 343, repro.
1928
Whitley, William T. Artists and Their Friends in England, 1700-1800. 2 vols. London and Boston, 1928: 2:395-396.
1932
Whitley, William T. Gilbert Stuart. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1932: 15, 31-36.
1952
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 138, color repro., as The Skater.
1956
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1956: 50, color repro., as The Skater.
1957
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 91
1961
Oswald, Arthur. "Our Ancestors on the Ice." Country Life 129 (9 February 1961): 268-270, repro.
1964
Mount, Charles Merrill. Gilbert Stuart. New York, 1964: 69-74.
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:380, color repro.
1969
Prown, Jules David. American Painting, From its Beginnings to the Armory Show. Geneva, 1969: 47-48.
1970
American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 106, repro., as The Skater.
1973
Button, Dick. "The Art of Skating." Antiques 103, no. 2 (February 1973): 351-362, color repro. on cover.
1975
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 380, color repro. 381.
1978
King, Marian. Adventures in Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1978: 54, pl. 31.
1980
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 234, repro.
1980
Evans, Dorinda. Benjamin West and his American Students. Exh. cat. National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Washington, 1980: 55, 57-58, repro. 59.
1980
Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 10, no. 6, color repro.
1981
Waterson, Merlin. "Hissing Along the Polished Ice." Country Life 169 (2 April 1981): repro. 872.
1981
Williams 1981, color repro. 49, 62, repro. 63.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 376, no. 531, color repro.
1986
McLanathan, Richard. Gilbert Stuart. New York, 1986: color repro. 36, 37, 45-47.
1986
Pressly, William L. "Gilbert Stuart's The Skater: An Essay in Romantic Melancholy." American Art Journal 18, no. 1, 1986: 42-51, fig. 1.
1987
Pearson, Andrea G. "Gilbert Stuart's The Skater (Portrait of William Grant) and Henry Raeburn's The Reverend Robert Walker, D.D., Skating on Duddington Loch: A Study of Sources." Rutgers Art Review 8 (1987): 55-70, fig. 1.
1988
Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 58-59, no. 6, color repro.
1990
Crean, Hugh R. Gilbert Stuart and the politics of fine arts patronage in Ireland, 1787-1793; A social and cultural study. Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1990: 55-62.
1992
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 345, repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 214, repro.
1995
Miles, Ellen G. American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1995: 162-169, color repro. 165.
1997
Hughes, Robert. American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America. New York, 1997: 128, color fig. 81.
1997
Thomson, Duncan. Raeburn: The Art of Sir Henry Raeburn 1756-1823, Exh. cat. Scottish National Portrait Gallery at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh; National Portrait Gallery, London, 1997-1998, p. 90, no. 61, repro.
1998
Mandel, Corinne. "Melancholy." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art, edited by Helene E. Roberts. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:586-588.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 294-295, no. 240, color repro.
2011
Gopnik, Adam. Winter: Four Windows on the Season. Toronto, 2011: 142-143, color repro.
2013
Evans, Dorinda. Gilbert Stuart and the Impact of Manic Depression. Burlington, 2013: 162-164, 168 nn. 36 and 37, fig. 11.

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