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George Washington (the Munro-Lenox Portrait)
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About the item

Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington (The Munro-Lenox Portrait) has been known since the 1930s by the names of its two 19th century owners, Peter Jay Munro (1767-1833) and James Lenox (1800-1880).  Though the circumstances surrounding the original commission are not entirely clear, its early provenance is known through an article in the August 2, 1817 Boston Intelligencer, which described the portrait as: “The copy done for an individual gentleman,…now in possession of Peter Jay Munro, Esq. who we understand purchased it in England.  It was painted for a London banker by order of the British Consel General.  The banker wished only a half length; but by mistake it was made a full length” (“Stuart’s Picture of Washington”).  Munro was a prominent New York lawyer and the nephew of John Jay, first Chief Justice of the United States (1789-1794).  At the age of thirteen, he accompanied Jay on his mission to Spain, when the latter was assigned by Congress as a peace commissioner and became one of the most influential diplomats of the Revolutionary crisis.  Munro returned to New York in 1784 to continue his law education under Aaron Burr, later running his own successful practice from 1800 to 1826, when his health gave way.  Munro first met Stuart when he volunteered to pose in his uncle’s robes to aid in the artist’s completion of Jay’s portrait.  The present portrait descended in Munro’s family until it was purchased in 1845 by New York philanthropist and bibliophile James Lenox. Lenox founded the Lenox Library in 1870, which later joined with the Astor Library (1848) and the Tilden Trust (1886) to form The New York Public Library (1895).  In an 1817 interview with the artist, Stuart told Henry Pickering that “he had made one copy of the [Lansdowne portrait], & that that is in the possession of Peter Jay Munroe, Esq.” (Henry Pickering Papers, Salem, Massachusetts, 1817).  Upon the completion of this portrait, Stuart was commissioned to paint three full-lengths of Washington for the states of Rhode Island and Connecticut.  Rather than revert back to the compositional formula of the Lansdowne, Stuart modeled the subsequent three replicas on the Munro-Lenox, revealing his satisfaction with the changes.  Contemporary critics lauded this portrait in comparison to one of Stuart’s exact replicas of the Lansdowne: “We have seen a full length portrait of Washington, by Stewart [sic], giving another view of the face, and another attitude, beyond all comparison preferable to this [the replica of the Lansdowne portrait created for William Constable, Brooklyn Museum, New York].  It is in the possession of Peter Jay Munroe, Esq.  We lament that the engraving had not been made from Mr. Munroe’s, rather than Lord Lansdown’s [sic] picture.  It is not only a better picture, but is much more like the person and face of Washington” (American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review, July 1817, p. 200).\nIn the Munro-Lenox portrait, Stuart deviates slightly, yet deliberately, from the Lansdowne (figure 1).  According to Richard McLanathan, “He posed the figure differently: with the feet close together, it seemed more upright and poised.  He subtly altered the proportion of the subject to the picture field.  The left hand holds the sword less obtrusively, the right rests on a copy of the Constitution, which is partly unrolled on the table.  The handsome still-life details on the tabletop and of the books beneath it are still there, but more deftly subordinated to the whole.  The background drapery reveals more sky, and the president stands on a marble floor derived from Rigaud’s Bossuet (figure 2), by way of the ever-useful engraving by Drevet that Benjamin West had introduced Stuart to so many years before.  The Empire-style table and chair are still there, as in the earlier versions, but the composition is more controlled in terms of light and dark, which are manipulated expertly to provide a compositional coherence and emotional expression less completely realized in the previous renderings.  Here the president looks directly out at the viewer, as in the Athenaeum portrait, on which the head is based.  The result is at once more grand and more personal, and incomparably the finest of Stuart’s full-length portraits of Washington” (Gilbert Stuart, New York, 1986, p. 100-103).\nStuart’s depiction of Washington’s physique in the Munro-Lenox is markedly different than in the Lansdowne.  John K. Howat observes: “Gustavus Eisen, in his highly detailed study, Portraits of Washington, differentiated between the rather stubby and clumsy figure in the Lansdowne picture (posed for by Stuart’s landlord Smith, or by Alderman Keppele) and the elegant swordsman’s pose in the Lenox version, which he attributed to the use of Noailles as model.  Eisen thought Noailles’ figure too slim to represent Washington, and on this ground, suggests Stuart painted the Lenox version first, then switched to the heavier Smith or Keppele to produce the later Lansdowne painting” (“The Vicomte de Noailles as Portrayed by Gilbert Stuart," The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, March 1971, p. 338).  Louis Marie, vicomte de Noailles, was a celebrated French military hero and the brother-in-law of the marquis de Lafayette, Washington's beloved friend. He first traveled to America in 1780 with General Rochambeau’s army to aid in the colonists fight against the British.  He met Washington and represented the French army during the surrender of the British at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.  Noailles was also a close friend of Stuart’s patrons, William and Anne Bingham.  Noailles met the Binghams during the latter’s trip to Paris, and when he moved to Philadelphia in 1783, he stayed with them.  The Bingham’s facilitated his introduction to Stuart and in 1796 Noailles gave Stuart a “superb silver-mounted rapier” to be used in the Lansdowne portrait.  Noailles was an expert fencer and described by his contemporaries as “tall, graceful, the first amateur dancer of the age” (Gilbert Stuart, 2004, p. 208).\nWashington’s black velvet suit is the style he wore specifically on public occasions and it appears in all of Stuart’s full-length portraits of the President except one.  His choice of this clothing announces his duty as civil servant, before all else.  According to Ellis, “From the very start…[Washington] made a point of insisting that his expansive mandate was dependent upon and subordinate to, the will of the American citizenry” (His Excellency, p. 82).  Jane Stuart, the artist’s daughter, recalled: “I have heard my mother say that the first time she saw [Washington], he entered the hall door, as she passed from the entry to the parlor, and that she thought him the most superb-looking person she had ever seen.  He was then dressed in black velvet, with white lace ruffles, etc., exactly as Stuart’s picture represented him” (Gilbert Stuart, 2004, p. 169).\nSigned G. St on the table brace, c.l.
US
NY, US
US

medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Gilbert Stuart

dimensions

95 by 64 in.

exhibition

New York, The American Academy of the Fine Arts, Annual Exhibition, fall 1795 New York, The New York Public Library, The American Idea: Discovery and Settlement, Revolution and Independence, March-July 1976 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Bourse Building, Americana Jubilee, August 1976-July 1977 New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Gilbert Stuart, October 2004-July 2005, no. 49, pp. 186-190, illustrated in color pl. 49

literature

"Second Exhibition of the American Academy of the Fine Arts," American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review, July 1817, p. 200 "Stuart's Picture of Washington," Boston Intelligencer and Morning and Evening Advertiser, August 1817, p. 2 Ambroise Firmin-Didot, Drevet (Pierre, Pierre-Imbert, and Claude): catalogue raisonné, Paris, France, 1876, see Pierre-Imbert, nos. 11, 12 Lenox Library, A Guide to the Paintings and Sculpture Exhibited to the Public, New York, 1878, no. 70 George C. Mason, Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart, New York, 1879, p. 105 Elizabeth B. Johnston, Original Portraits of Washington, including Statues, Monuments, and Medals, Boston, Massachusetts, 1882, p. 90 Charles Henry Hart, "Stuart's Lansdowne Portrait of Washington," Harper's Magazine, August 1896, p. 384 New York Public Library, Catalogue of Paintings in The Lenox Gallery, New York, 1897, no. 60 Lawrence Park, Gilbert Stuart: An Illustrated Descriptive List of His Work, vol. 2, New York, 1926, no. 24, p. 858 Gustavus A. Eisen, "Stuart's Three Washingtons," International Studio, February 1923, p. 393, illustrated p. 392 Mantle Fielding, Gilbert Stuart's Portraits of George Washington, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1923, illustrated p. 138 M.D. Cole, "Origin of the Design of the Table Leg in Stuart's Portrait of Washington," International Studio, February 1931, p. 51 John Hill Morgan and Mantle Fielding, Life Portraits of Washington and Their Replicas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1931, pp. 244-45, 265-66 Gustavus A. Eisen, Portraits of Washington, vol. 1, New York, 1932, p. 83, illustrated p. 231 James Thomas Flexner, "Early American Painting: Stuart's Full-lengths of Washington," Art in America, October 1947, pp. 329-33 R.W. Hill and L.M. Stark, "Washingtoniana in the New York Public Library," New York Public Library Bulletin, February 1957, p. 77 Charles Merrill Mount, Gilbert Stuart, A Biography, New York, 1964, p. 224, illustrated p. 379 Harold E. Dickson, Arts of the Young Republic: The Age of William Dunlap, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1968, illustrated fig. 71 John K. Howat, "The Vicomte de Noailles as Portrayed by Gilbert Stuart," The Bulletin of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 1971, p. 337-39, illustrated p. 337 Katherine Kuh, "Worth a Thousand Words," Saturday Review of Literature, March 15, 1971, p. 53 Dorinda Evans, The Genius of Gilbert Stuart, Princeton, New Jersey, 1999, pp. 68-71

provenance

Peter Jay Munro, New York, circa 1800-1833 By descent in the family James Lenox, New York, 1845 (acquired from the above) Gift to the present owner from the above, 1870

signedDate

Signed G. St on the table brace, c.l.

consignmentDesignation

Property from The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations





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