…the only idea that we now have of George Washington, is associated with Stuart’s Washington.
--John Neale, 1823.1
An early rendition displaying the artist’s signature virtuosity, this Athenaeum-type portrait is a particularly significant survival of the most recognizable and oft-reproduced image of George Washington. Gilbert Stuart painted over seventy five replicas and, disseminated by countless other portraitists and engravers, including the designers of the US one dollar bill, the likeness remains today the primary image of America’s first President. The original canvas was painted from life in 1796 and details of composition and execution indicate that the work offered here was painted within the following few years. Remarkably well preserved, the portrait is further distinguished by its history. Likely first owned by Colonel Thomas Lloyd Moore (1759-1813), a hero of the Revolution, the work can be documented as early as 1841 in the Willing family of Philadelphia and later descended in an aristocratic English family.
The shaping of the head, lace shirt ruffle and background all suggest that the portrait was executed during Stuart’s years in Philadelphia and prior to his move to Washington D.C. in 1803. As discussed by Ellen Miles, Curator Emeritus at the National Portrait Gallery, Stuart’s replicas painted in Philadelphia feature a face more rectangular in shape than the original work, an intricate lace shirt ruffle and queue with jagged profile, details seen on the work offered here that contrast with later renditions painted during Stuart’s years in Boston with a rounder face, linen shirt ruffle and ribboned queue. Stuart’s mastery is particularly evident in the execution of the lace shirt ruffle. His technique was to paint the black of the coat to the edges of the ruffle and then delineate the ruffle in shades of grey with white highlights, creating the appearance of a gauzy, semi-transparent fabric.2 Here, the shirt ruffle passage is marked by the briefest of strokes executed with supreme fluidity, illustrating Stuart’s mastery and confidence. Like Stuart’s replicas in general, no two shirt ruffles are exactly the same. However, the hint of cross-hatching, arc-shaped brushstrokes and edging with bright white highlights seen here closely relate to two now in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, an example in the US Capitol and one that sold at auction in 2015, the last two with documented early ownership in Philadelphia.3
Energised and rapidly applied, the brushstrokes on the red ground and column, like the shirt ruffle passage, demonstrate the talents of the artist. This portrait is one of only a few of Stuart’s replicas that do not have a plain background and the majority have plain dark grounds. Interestingly, Rembrandt Peale later described one of Stuart’s head portraits of Washington as having “..a Crimson Curtain Background…,” which must have been one of the earliest replicas as it was exhibited by Stuart in the spring of 1796.4 Rembrandt’s father, the artist Charles Willson Peale, owned one with a similar background and at least two other Athenaeum-type portraits by Stuart with a red ground and column are known. In addition to the Peale provenance, a Philadelphia origin for all is supported by their inclusion of lace shirt ruffles and jagged-edge queues.5 A common artistic device, a column with red drapery was also used by Stuart in his larger portraits of Washington executed in Philadelphia, such as the Lansdowne in 1796, the Constable-Hamilton in 1797 and the Munro-Lenox in about 1800.6
HISTORY OF THE PORTRAIT
As documented by an 1841 letter, the portrait was owned by Thomas Moore Willing (1805-1850) who sold it in that year to Joshua Bates (1788-1864) (fig. 2), a senior partner in the London banking firm Baring Brothers. In the letter, Willing states that the portrait was painted for his grandfather, Colonel Thomas Lloyd Moore (1759-1813), who had fought alongside Washington during the Revolution. He variously served as Lieutenant of the 2nd Pennsylvania Battalion, Captain and Major in the 9th and 5th Pennsylvania regiments and was described by Washington as among “the best Officers who were in the Army.”7 Colonel Moore and Washington also knew each other socially. When in 1784 Colonel Moore’s sister Elizabeth married the French chargé d’affaires François Barbé-Marbois, Washington wrote to the prospective groom, “It was with great pleasure that I received from your own pen an account of the agreeable and happy connection you are about to form with Miss Moore. Thought you have given many proofs of your predilection to this country, yet this last may be considered not only as a great and tender one, but as a pleasing and lasting one. The accomplishments of the lady and her connections cannot fail to make it so.”8 Three years later, during the Constitutional Convention, Washington noted in his diary that on June 14th, 1787, he dined at “Maj’r Moore’s,” possibly Colonel Moore.9 On Washington’s recommendation, Colonel Moore was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel during the undeclared war with France in 1798-1800. Thus, with such personal connections, Colonel Moore would have been desirous to acquire a likeness of the first President and his ownership of such a portrait is confirmed by his 1813 probate inventory, which records “1 Portrait of General Washington” valued at $75 (fig. 1). The portrait was given a place of honor in the household and hung in his Drawing Room, which was extensively furnished with marble tables, twenty armchairs, twelve other chairs and two sofas.10
A member of the upper echelons of society, Colonel Moore lived amongst the most well-to-do and fashionable of Philadelphia, many of whom were patrons of Stuart. He was born in 1759 to merchant William Moore (1731-1793) and Sarah Lloyd (1736-1789) and while he joined the Revolutionary forces at the age of 16, his father furthered the Patriot cause politically and economically. William Moore served as President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania toward the end of the War and in 1780 he along with Robert Morris was among the three highest subscribers who each paid a £10,000 bond to the Bank of Pennsylvania for the creation of a fund to support the Continental army. The next highest subscribers at £5,000 each were merchants Thomas Willing (1731-1821) and William Bingham (1752-1804), both of whom were to become Colonel Moore’s relations.11 In 1783, Colonel Moore married Sarah Stamper (1764-1826) and the couple lived in a mansion on Pine Street, near Second, on part of the block bought entirely by her grandfather, John Stamper (d. 1782). Their home was in the most prestigious area of the city and described as “a fine, dashing gentleman…[who] lived in style,” Colonel Moore was clearly part of Philadelphia’s most elite social set.12
Colonel Moore’s wife was the first cousin of William Bingham who along with his wife Anne Willing (1764-1801), were the undisputed King and Queen of Philadelphia society during the 1790s. At one time, the Binghams were neighbors of the Moores, living in John Stamper’s 1764 mansion, which housed the famous Stamper-Blackwell parlor now installed at Winterthur Museum. They were also Stuart’s most important patrons. The Binghams had first met the artist in London in 1784 or 1785, when they commissioned a family portrait. Over ten years later in Philadelphia, the couple commissioned several portraits from Stuart of Washington including the original Lansdowne full-length portrait, as well as their own likenesses.13 In 1804, Colonel Moore’s daughter, Eliza, married Anne’s brother Richard Willing (1775-1858) and a year later Richard was listed as one of the beneficiaries of William Bingham’s estate.14 Many other associates of Colonel Moore patronised Stuart. These include Samuel Blodget, John Craig, William Cramond, Thomas Fitzsimons, Philip Nicklin and John Vaughan, all of whom served along with Colonel Moore as Directors of the Insurance Company of North America; they all also appear on the list of “gentlemen who are to have copies of the Portrait of the President of the United States” drawn up by Stuart in 1795.15 Several of these as well as others involved with the company had their own portraits painted by the artist, as did many of Colonel Moore’s extended family and neighbors.16
Upon Colonel Moore’s death in 1813, he was hailed as “a Patriot and Hero of the Revolution, whose military services… were performed with so much distinction, as to secure to him the esteem and friendship of the GREAT WASHINGTON.” The same newspaper notice requested the attendance of the Philadelphia Society of Cincinnati at the funeral for “their Brother Member” at his Pine Street home; furthermore, in remembrance, they were to “wear crape on the left arm for thirty days.”17 The portrait likely descended to his daughter and son-in-law, Richard Willing, who was an appraiser of his estate and thence to their son, Thomas Moore Willing.
While it is highly likely that the portrait offered here was owned by Colonel Moore, Willing wrote another letter in 1845 claiming the same history for a Stuart Athenaeum-type portrait of Washington now owned by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts.18 While it is possible, though not recorded in the 1813 probate inventory, that Moore owned two such portraits, it is much more likely that Willing inherited one of these from his grandfather and obtained the other from another source. As many in his family hailed from known patrons of Stuart, he may have inherited or acquired the second portrait from his relations in the Willing, Bingham, Lee and Carter families. In both letters, Willing claimed that each portrait was painted from life and that his grandfather posed for Stuart for his execution of Washington’s legs in the full-length Lansdowne portrait. Both claims are not supported by evidence and they illustrate Willing’s awareness that a life portrait rather than a copy would enhance their monetary value. Although Willing claimed that the portraits were being sold on account of his moving house, he was in fact in need of money after taking out a loan in 1840 that he could not repay.19 As the portrait offered here was sold first, it is likely though conjectural that it was the one painted for Moore and that after its successful sale, Willing used the same information to sell another example four years later.
Willing’s 1841 letter, dated May 12th from Philadelphia, does not identify the recipient, but this individual is known to be Joshua Bates (1788-1864) as the letter descended with the portrait to the current owner. Born just outside of Boston in Weymouth, Massachusetts, Bates rose from modest circumstances to become the managing partner of the banking firm Baring Brothers in London, where he resided from the 1820s until his death. However, from April to August 1841, he travelled to America, first to New York, then by May 1st to Washington and by May 25th, he was back in New York. As Willing begins his May 12th letter with “It escaped one altogether yesterday to mention to you that I had a picture of Genl Washington painted by Stewart..”, it can be surmised that Bates stopped en route from Washington to New York in Philadelphia where he met with Willing on May 11th.20 Willing’s letter also specifies that he was entrusting the sale of the portrait with a “Mr. Carter.” This was undoubtedly his father-in-law, Bernard Moore Carter (1780-1843), who in 1840 travelled to London where through his stock sales was known to have been in touch with Baring Brothers.21
Bates may have seen other Stuart portraits of Washington through his work colleagues the Baring family, known patrons of Stuart. He may also have been particularly keen to own such a portrait as his father, Colonel Joshua Bates (1755-1804) had fought in the Revolutionary War. Although Bates lived in London, he remained an ardent supporter of America throughout his life. In 1852, he founded the Boston Public Library with a donation of $50,000 and thirty thousand books, a legacy honored by the naming of the institution’s Bates Hall. Besides the portrait offered here, he owned Mason Chamberlin’s 1762 portrait of Benjamin Franklin now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the sale of the collection of his grandson included many portraits of American statesmen probably inherited from Bates.22 Bates married Bostonian Lucretia Augusta Sturgis (1787-1863) and at the time of the purchase of this portrait, the couple lived at 46 Portland Place in London. In 1851, they moved to 21 Arlington Street, near Green Park, and the portrait likely remained at this address until its sale in 1912. Their daughter, Elizabeth Ann Sturgis Bates (1817-1878) (fig. 3) married Jean Sylvain Van de Weyer (1802-1874), the Belgian minister to the Court of St. James and the 8th Prime Minister of Belgium. The portrait was in the collection of their son, Lt. Colonel Victor William Bates Van de Weyer (1839–1915), when it was sold along with the other contents of the 21 Arlington Street mansion in 1912. At this sale, it was purchased by a relative, also a descendant of Bates, and has remained in the family ever since.