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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.


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
Royal Academy, London, 1782, no. 190, as Portrait of a gentleman skating
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
American Painting from the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day, Tate Gallery, London, 1946, no. 206
Style, Truth, and the Portrait, Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, 1963, no. 38
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
American Art: 1750-1800, Towards Independence, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1976, no. 44
American Portraiture in the Grand Manner: 1720-1920, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1981-1982, no. 21.
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.
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.
"Candid." Letter to the Editor. The Morning Chronicle, and London Advertiser (9 May 1782): 2.
"Postscript. Account of the Exhibition of Paintings, &c. at the Royal Academy." St. James Chronicle, or British Evening Post, 2-4 May 1782: 4.
"Royal Academy, 1782. Fourteenth Exhibition." The Morning Chronicle, and London Advertiser (30 April 1782): 3.
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.
Lester, C. Edwards. The Artists of America. New York, 1846: 126.
Dunlap, William. A History of the Rise and Progress of The Arts of Design in the United States. 2 vols. Reprinted in 3. New York, 1969 (1834): 1:183-184.
Stuart, Jane. "The Youth of Gilbert Stuart." Scribner's Monthly 13, no. 5 (March 1877): 642.
"The Old Masters at Burlington House. Second Notice." The Illustrated London News 72, no. 2012 (January 19, 1878): 66.
"The Old Masters at Burlington House. Third Notice." The Illustrated London News 72, no. 2013 (January 26, 1878): 91.
"The Old Masters at the Royal Academy." Saturday Review 45, no. 1159 (January 12, 1878): 50.
Mason, George C. The Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart. New York, 1879: 187-190.
"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.
Quincy, Josiah. Figures of the Past from the Leaves of Old Journals. 4th ed. Boston, 1883: 84.
Park 1926, 34, 358-359, no. 343, repro.
Whitley, William T. Artists and Their Friends in England, 1700-1800. 2 vols. London and Boston, 1928: 2:395-396.
Whitley, William T. Gilbert Stuart. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1932: 15, 31-36.
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 138, color repro., as The Skater.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1956: 50, color repro., as The Skater.
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 91.
Oswald, Arthur. "Our Ancestors on the Ice." Country Life 129 (9 February 1961): 268-270, repro.
Mount, Charles Merrill. Gilbert Stuart. New York, 1964: 69-74.
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.
Novak, Barbara. American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience. 2nd ed. New York, 1979: 32, fig. 1.17.
Prown, Jules David. American Painting, From its Beginnings to the Armory Show. Geneva, 1969: 47-48.
American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 106, repro., as The Skater.
Button, Dick. "The Art of Skating." Antiques 103, no. 2 (February 1973): 351-362, color repro. on cover.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 380, color repro. 381.
King, Marian. Adventures in Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1978: 54, pl. 31.
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 234, repro.
Evans, Dorinda. Benjamin West and His American Students. Exh. cat. National Portrait Gallery, Washington; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Washington, 1980: 55, 57-58, repro. 59.
Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1980: 10, no. 6, color repro.
Waterson, Merlin. "Hissing Along the Polished Ice." Country Life 169 (2 April 1981): repro. 872.
Williams, William James. A Heritage of American Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1981: color repro. 49, 62, repro. 63.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 376, no. 531, color repro.
McLanathan, Richard. Gilbert Stuart. New York, 1986: color repro. 36, 37, 45-47.
Pressly, William L. "Gilbert Stuart's The Skater: An Essay in Romantic Melancholy." American Art Journal 18, no. 1, 1986: 42-51, fig. 1.
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.
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.
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.
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 345, repro.
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 214, repro.
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.
Hughes, Robert. American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America. New York, 1997: 128, color fig. 81.
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.
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.
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 294-295, no. 240, color repro.
Gopnik, Adam. Winter: Four Windows on the Season. Toronto, 2011: 142-143, color repro.
Evans, Dorinda. Gilbert Stuart and the Impact of Manic Depression. Burlington, 2013: 162-164, 168 nn. 36 and 37, fig. 11.