Mrs. Samuel Gatliff and Daughter Elizabeth

Gilbert Stuart

Gilbert Stuart’s portraiture represents a watershed moment in American art—a transition to a more technically and psychologically sophisticated way of painting. A native of Rhode Island, Stuart began painting in the mannered, linear colonial style. In 1775 he sailed for London, becoming an assistant to Benjamin West. It was here that Stuart’s mature style developed, emulating the soft, feathery technique of English masters Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough; Stuart’s fluidity with the brush was heightened by his keen sensitivity to color. In spite of his success, Stuart’s unpredictability and irresponsibility forced him to flee creditors in London and subsequently Dublin. He returned to the United States in 1793, working in New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Boston, becoming a major influence to a new generation of artists. Stuart’s almost exclusive focus on the face resulted in portraits of great intimacy and insight. The subject of this work, Elizabeth Gatliff (1779—1853), married the English merchant Samuel Gatliff when she was seventeen, but was a widow with four children before she was thirty. Here, Mrs. Gatliff holds her eldest child Elizabeth (life dates unknown), and looks out at the viewer with a radiant expression of maternal love. Elizabeth Gatliff married the English merchant Samuel Gatliff when she was seventeen, but, before she was thirty, was a widow with four children. The painting’s glowing flesh tones and vigorous treatment of fabric are hallmarks of Stuart’s technique. This work was bequeathed to the Academy by the sitter’s son from a second marriage. The Academy also owns a portrait of Samuel Gatliff, plus twenty-seven other portraits by Stuart.
Date of Birth
ca. 1798
Oil on canvas
29 1/4 x 24 in. (74.3 x 61.0 cm.)
Accession #
Credit Line
Bequest of Dr. Ferdinand Campbell Stewart