National Gallery of Art
Gilbert Stuart

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Benjamin Waterhouse, 1775,
oil on canvas, Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport, Rhode Island
Benjamin Waterhouse, 1775,
oil on canvas,
Redwood Library and Athenaeum,
Newport, Rhode Island, Bequest of
Louisa Lee Waterhouse
(Mrs. Benjamin Waterhouse)
of Cambridge, Massachusetts

Newport and Edinburgh (1755-1775)

The son of a snuff miller, Gilbert Stuart was born in Kingston, Rhode Island, and raised in the busy harbor town of Newport. He showed an early talent for drawing, and an apprenticeship with a visiting Scottish portraitist, Cosmo Alexander, helped determine his professional path. By 1772, Stuart had accompanied Alexander to Edinburgh, where he learned to paint in the prevailing Scottish manner, a linear style that pleased Newport residents when he returned after a year abroad. Over the next few years, as he worked on local commissions, Stuart gradually began to represent individual character successfully. A portrait of his friend Benjamin Waterhouse from 1775 portends Stuart’s impending artistic transformation. This likeness, with its greater use of detail and more subtle modeling, was his most personal and finest to date.

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