By Michael Baadke
Gilbert Charles Stuart’s portraits of America’s founding fathers have been featured on a great number of United States stamps.
Stuart, a master portrait artist, was born Dec. 3, 1755, in Saunderstown, R.I. As a teenager he studied portraiture with Scottish artist Cosmo Alexander. Living in England at age 20, Stuart next studied under Benjamin West, and began exhibiting at the Royal Academy.
Though he found success in his career, Stuart’s financial situation was often dire, and in 1793 he returned to the United States, eventually opening a studio near Philadelphia, Pa.
Within two years he painted his most famous subject, President George Washington. Washington sat for Stuart three times, and the second sitting produced a famous painting known today as “The Athenaeum.” It is the same portrait reproduced on the U.S. $1 bill, the 12¢ gray-black stamp of 1851 (Scott 17), and numerous other stamps, including the 20¢ definitives issued April 11, 2011 (4504 and 4512).
Other familiar Gilbert Stuart portraits on stamps include Thomas Jefferson on the 1954 2¢ definitive (Scott 1033), John Jay on the 1958 15¢ definitive (1046), James Madison on the 1894 and 1994 $2 stamps (262 and 2875b), and James Monroe on a 3¢ commemorative in 1958 (1105).
Stuart was himself depicted on a 1¢ stamp issued Sept. 5, 1940, in the Famous Americans series. The portrait of the artist is based upon a miniature painting by Sarah Goodridge (1788-1853).