This dashing young captain was to become one of America's most famous naval commanders. In the summer of 1813, Charles Stewart took command of the Constitution. That frigate already had acquired her nickname of "Old Ironsides" when, during the War of 1812, a British cannonball had bounced off her sturdy oak hull. Since in their respectively long careers, neither ship nor man ever lost a battle, "Old Ironsides" came to identify both.
Portrayed at age thirty-three, the captain reveals his years of active duty by his vigorous stance, feet braced apart as though planted on a rolling deck—an assertive, even swaggering, posture most unexpected in a formal portrait. His thumb aggressively presses down upon the desk's naval charts, and a world globe emerges beneath the tablecloth. The white, lower half of Stewart's uniform stands out against the shaded room, while a shaft of sunshine on the upper wall silhouettes his dark, navy coat and cocked elbow.
Captain Charles Stewart was Thomas Sully's second full-length portrait. Sully had emigrated from England to the United States when he was nine. Gilbert Stuart graciously allowed the young painter to observe him at work. Establishing himself as a Philadelphia portraitist, Sully saved enough money to spend nine months studying art in London in 1810.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II, pages 139-143, which is available as a free PDF (21MB).
The sitter's daughter, Delia Stewart Parnell; her son, Charles Stewart Parnell [1846-1891], Avondale, County Wicklow, Ireland; possibly his daughter, Mrs. Olivia Parnell, Laragh Castle, Glendalough, Rathdrim, County Wicklow, Ireland; acquired July 1916 by Marie Louise Tudor Garland, Boston, Massachusetts; her daughter, Hope Garland Ingersoll [Mrs. W. Fitch Ingersoll], Boston; (M. Knoedler & Co., New York); purchased 1947 by NGA.
- Second Annual Exhibition of The Society of Artists of the United States and the Pennsylvania Academy, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1812, no. 31.
- Exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts..., Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1816, no. 101.
- Memorial Exhibition of Portraits by Thomas Sully, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1922, no. 155.
- Loan to display with permanent collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1924-at least 1932.
- Your Navy: Its Contribution to America From Colonial Days to World Leadership, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1948, unnumbered checklist.
- La Pintura de Los Estados Unidos de Museos de la Ciudad de Washington, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, 1980-1981, no. 6, color repro.
- Federal Philadelphia 1785-1825: The Athens of the Western World, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1987, no. 223.
- Hart 1909, no. 1606, 157.
- Biddle, Edward, and Mantle Fielding. The Life and Works of Thomas Sully (1783-1872). Philadelphia, 1921: no. 1646.
- Catalogue of the Memorial Exhibition of Portraits by Thomas Sully. Exh. cat. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1922: no. 155, 108.
- American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 112, repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 244, repro.
- La pintura de los Estados Unidas de museos de la ciudad de Washington. Exh. cat. Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, 1980: 52, pl. 6.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 13, 54, repro.
- Williams, William James. A Heritage of American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1981: 87, color repro. 101.
- Brown, Milton W. One Hundred Masterpieces of American Painting from Public Collections in Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C., 1983: 50, pl. 51.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 390, no. 558, color repro.
- Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 62, repro.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 359, repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 223, repro.
- Torchia, Robert Wilson, with Deborah Chotner and Ellen G. Miles. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part II. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1998: 139-143, color repro.