June 09, 2015

#04-029: The Famous Unknown Gilbert Stuart

oil painting of a balding man with upswept white hair, wearing a high-collared white shirt and a black coat
Gilbert Stuart

Note: Most of us have seen Gilbert Stuart's work hundreds or thousands of times--and never knew his name! Find the solution to this mystery in this lesson.

Get Ready: What kind of people (politicians, scholars, military leaders, etc.) are on the money in your country? Or, if your money doesn't feature people at all, what is on it?

The American painter Gilbert Charles Stuart (1755-1828) may be one of the most famous painters you've never heard of.

His specialty was portraits of people like the "Founding Fathers" of America, including the first six presidents of the United States (Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams) and some of their wives. He also painted one king of England (George III), one king of France (Louis XVI), and America's first multi-millionaire (John Jacob Astor).

A painting of George Washington is his best known. You have probably seen a version of it: it was used to create the portrait of Washington on the one-dollar bill. Although the original was never finished, Stuart made 130 copies of it and sold them for $100 a piece, quite a lot of money in those days. It is jointly owned by several major museums today.

Stuart was born in Rhode Island. While still in his teens, he moved to Scotland to study painting with a Scottish artist named Cosmo Alexander. Alexander died a year later, and the young Stuart returned to America.

Four years later, Stuart returned to England, and later Ireland, just before the beginning of the Revolutionary War between the U.S. and England. He soon found that his paintings were selling at high prices--just behind those of famed English artists Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough--and when he returned to the newly-free United States in 1793, his fame preceded him.

However, Stuart was a poor money manager--he had left the UK partly because of debts--and although acclaimed as an artist, he experienced regular financial problems. He continued to paint until his death at age 72.

His popular portrait of George Washington has become the basis of an unusual game called "Where's George?" Players enter the serial number of a bill, and their own postal code, on a website. They stamp the bill with the website's address, and then spend it. When another player enters the bill's serial number on the website, this is called a "hit." The fun is in tracking the bill's movement, sometimes all over the world.

Gilbert Stuart never knew what he started!


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilbert_Stuart

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. acclaimed
  2. founding
  3. jointly
  4. multi-millionaire
  5. portrait
  6. postal code
  7. preceded
  8. serial number
  9. specialty
  10. tracking

  1. following; monitoring the path of
  2. a photo or painting of a person's face
  3. numbers used in an address; referring to a district, they help mail move more quickly
  4. praised for; famous for
  5. together
  6. a very rich person
  7. came (or went) before someone or something
  8. starting; creating
  9. the thing someone is especially good at
  10. one in a series used to identify things

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 9, 2015

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. h; 3. e; 4. f; 5. b; 6. c; 7. g; 8. j; 9. i; 10. a