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An Original, Almost – George Washington’s Portrait at Rose Hill Mansion

September 26th, 2019

By Amy Pepe, Visitor Services Manager and Public Programs Manager at Rose Hill Mansion and Johnston House

etching of a man in colonial dress

Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington as seen on the U.S. Dollar Bill

In the back parlor at Rose Hill Mansion, there is a portrait of George Washington hanging on the wall. Many visitors ask us if it is an original painting of the president. While it was not done by the noted portraitist Gilbert Stuart, whose George Washington is famously featured on the dollar bill, the portrait at Rose Hill was done by Stuart’s daughter, Jane Stuart. The youngest of 12 children, Jane was born to Gilbert and Charlotte Coates Stuart in Boston between 808 and 1812. Her father is considered to be “one of America’s foremost portraitists” and painted over 75 copies of his portrait of George Washington, as well as painting Presidents Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Adams and other prominent early Americans. Although Gilbert did not formally teach Jane how to paint, she observed his work, learned to grind paints, and helped finish some of his paintings.

In time, Jane became a talented artist in her own right and Gilbert said she was his “best copyist.” She had one of her paintings exhibited at the Boston Anthenaeum at age 15 and her father planned to send her to London study with artist George Downey. However, Gilbert’s death in 1828 changed this plan. Instead, Jane studied in New York and by 1831 she had moved to Newport, Rhode Island with her mother and three sisters. The family was in debt after Gilbert’s death so Jane’s skill as an artist became the family’s primary source of income. She worked as an art teacher and also painted and sold numerous copies of her father’s portrait of George Washington, one of which is now housed in Rose Hill Mansion. Jane lived most of the rest of her life in Newport until her death in 1888.

painting of a man in colonial dress

Jane Stuart’s copy of her father’s portrait of George Washington. Although oriented the opposite way from how it appears on the dollar bill, you can see by the hair style and outfit that it is a copy of the same image

The portrait, which would likely have been painted after 1828, came to Rose Hill in 1967, when calls were put out for materials to furnish the mansion for its restoration (Rose Hill Mansion opened as a house museum in 1968). While the portrait did not belong to the families who lived in the mansion, it came from the estate of Hugh Rose, a relative of the Roses after whom the property is named.

Sources:

  1. “Gilbert Stuart,” Gilbert Stuart Birthplace & Museum.
  2. Margaret O’Connor, “Jane, Heir to the Stuart Genius,” Gilbert Stuart Birthplace & Museum.
  3. Marshall, Verne. The Roses of Geneva. Windswept Press, 2004.
  4. Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission,

 

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2 responses to “An Original, Almost – George Washington’s Portrait at Rose Hill Mansion”

  1. Joanne Wisor says:

    Enjoyed this

  2. Norma Press says:

    How interesting! I am glad to learn this.

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