Gilbert Stuart
John Adams, c. 1800/1815
Oil on canvas
29 x 24 in. (73.7 x 61 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Robert Homans 1954.7.1
Image Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington


2nd President of the United States; Term of Office: 1797-1801
The famous 19th-century American portraitist Gilbert Stuart painted companion images of John Adams and his wife, Abigail. Begun in 1800 and sketched from life, this portrait of the 2nd president of the United States was not finished until 15 years later. Stuart’s depiction conveys the independent nature of the sitter’s personality. The statesman is shown in an unpainted Windsor chair in a velvet charcoal gray jacket against a black waistcoat. The English-style laced collar – already a bit out of fashion by the early 1800s – represents Adams’ disregard for fashion trends while hinting at his incredible intellect and prominence as a scholar of theology and law. History has often thought of Adams as stuffy, but the painter softens this characterization through the details of the head and face. Adams is shown wearing a wig, but it does not hide his baldness. The ruddiness of his cheeks and the inclusion of pursed lips – caught as if in the midst of action or speech – suggest that the President felt at ease under his portraitist’s gaze.
Select facts derived from the Gilbert Stuart online tour resource.


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