Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755-1828)
George Washington, c. 1795
Oil on canvas
28 ½ x 24 11/16 inches
LOT SOLD: $185,000
Condition: Please see the Tom Yost Report for a detailed report on the condition of the painting.
Provenance: Philip Nicklin (1752-1806) His name is included on original list of commissioned portraits. On April 20, 1795, Gilbert Stuart compiled “…a list of gentlemen who are to have copies of the Portrait of the President of the United States.” Philip Nicklin’s name appears on the list as “Mr. Necklin” (See 1795 List from George C. Mason’s 1879 “The Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart”). Mr. Nicklin’s wife, Julianna, was the daughter of Chief Justice Benjamin Chew, a close personal friend of George Washington;
Estate of Julianna Nicklin (1765-1845), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1845;
Chester Harding, Boston, Massachusetts, 1845 (acquired from the Nicklin Estate Sale – OR it is possible that the painting was acquired in 1828 by Chester Harding when Harding completed a portrait of Charles Carroll of Carrollton [1737-1832], father-in-law of Sophia Chew Carroll, the wife of Charles Carroll of Homewood and sister of Julianna Chew Nicklin);
Moses Kimball, Boston, Massachusetts (acquired from the above) for display in 1849 in his recently completed “Boston Museum” (Boston Museum 1849 Catalogue Page #1 Boston Museum 1849 Catalogue Page #2)
Margaret Kimball, Boston, Massachusetts (his daughter and sold: Leonard’s Auction Rooms );
Alonzo H. Evans, Boston, Massachusetts (acquired from the above sale);
William E. Nickerson, Boston, Massachusetts (gift from the above);
Torrey Little, Boston, 1938 (acquired from the family of the above);
Robert B. Campbell, Dealer in Paintings and Prints, Boston, Massachusetts circa 1940;
Count Ivan N. Podgoursky, New York, February 5, 1945 (acquired from the above – please see copy of original receipt for – Robert Campbell Receipt);
Inherited by Mary Ermolaev, wife of Count Podgoursky, in 1962;
Sold by Mrs. Ermolaev to her son Vladimir Podgoursky sometime after 1962;
Estate of Vladimir Podgoursky, 2011
Located Examples of Vaughan Portraits:
The Frick Collection, New York;
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.;
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York;
Harvard University Portrait Collection, Cambridge, Massachusetts;
Henry Francis du Pont, Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware;
University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia;
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia;
Homeland Foundation, Inc., Amenia, New York;
Indiana University Library, Bloomington, Indiana;
And two distinguished Private Collections
Exhibited: Boston, Massachusetts, Boston Museum 1846
Richmond, Virginia, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Portrait Panorama: An Exhibition of Portraits by Artists of Six Centuries, September-October 1947, no. 11
Gilbert Stuart returned to America in March 1793, lured away from his successful career in Europe by “the love for his own country, and his admiration of General Washington, and the very great desire he had to paint his portrait.”1 Armed with a letter of introduction from the Honorable John Jay to President George Washington, Stuart relocated from New York to Philadelphia in 1794.2
This successful introduction presented Stuart with the opportunity to paint three distinct life portraits of the president in Philadelphia between 1794 and 1796, which subsequently served as models for further replicas. The Vaughan type, named for Philadelphia merchant John Vaughan (who purchased one for his father, Samuel Vaughan, a merchant in London and friend of Washington [National Gallery, Washington], and presumably, one for himself [The Frick Collection, New York, believes their portrait was the second that Vaughan commissioned]), depicts a waist-length view of Washington facing to his left. The Athenaeum portrait, commissioned by Martha Washington for Mount Vernon but never finished, reveals a bust-length portrayal of Washington with the left side of his face forward. The Lansdowne portrait, purportedly commissioned by wealthy Philadelphia merchant William Bingham as a gift for William Petty, the first Marquis of Lansdowne, shows Washington at full-length with his right hand out in gesture. 3 The wild success of Stuart’s Washington portraits led him to paint at least 100 replicas, including 75 of the Athenaeum type.4
Certainly the rarest and perhaps the most iconic of Stuart’s depictions of the president’s bust-length portraits, the Vaughan type portraits resulted from Washington’s first sitting with the artist in the Spring of 1795. Although only 18 replicas, including the lot being offered, of the Vaughan have been documented, on April 20, 1795, Stuart compiled “a list of gentlemen who are to have copies of the Portrait of the President of the United States.” This original list is presumably no longer extant, but Stuart’s daughter Jane later published a direct copy in 1876.5 The original owner of the present Vaughan portrait being offered for sale is listed among the names of prominent patrons such as John Vaughan, Benjamin West, Viscount Cremorne and John Jay. The owner, Philip Nicklin, incorrectly spelled as “Mr. Necklin” on Jane Stuart’s copy of her father’s list, remains one of only four members of this original list of 32 whose purchase can be connected to an identified portrait of the Vaughan type today.
A wealthy merchant in Philadelphia, Nicklin and his wife Julianna Chew had strong ties to both Washington and fellow members of Stuart’s list of commissions. Julianna’s family was one “with which he (Washington) was most intimate in Philadelphia.”6 Her father, Chief Justice Benjamin Chew, had a lifelong friendship with Washington, even after Chew openly opposed the Declaration of Independence. The Chew daughters, referred by Abigail Adams as “a constellation of beauties,” were among Martha and George Washington’s favorites and remained a constant presence at social gatherings hosted by the president and his wife.7 The family also boasted ties to the Philadelphia families of Vaughan and Bingham, the commissioners of the original Vaughan and Lansdowne portraits. All prominent Philadelphia merchants, Nicklin, Vaughan and William Bingham ran in the same social circles.8 In a letter Washington wrote to Stuart on April 11, 1796, he claims that he is “under promise to Mrs. Bingham to sit for you tomorrow at nine o’clock… I am, sir, your obedient servant, GEO. WASHINGTON.”9 It was at this sitting that Nicklin’s sister-in-law (his wife Julianna’s sister) Harriet accompanied Washington. According to an 1856 account of Rufus Griswold, Washington “sat at Stuart’s own house, and was accompanied several times by Harriet Chew, (afterwards Mrs. Carroll,) whose conversation he (Washington) said should give his face its most agreeable expression.”10 This further reveals the connective web between the Stuart, Chew, Washington, Nicklin and Bingham parties. Perhaps this connection played a role in urging all three men to obtain a Vaughan type portrait of Washington in 1795 (According to Carrie Rebora Barratt and Ellen Miles, Bingham owned the Vaughan portrait now in the collection of Winterthur).11
Both Nicklin and Vaughan commissioned Stuart to paint portraits of their own likenesses in 1795 as well.12 These portraits share the same compositional elements, such as Stuart’s use of a distinctive mix of vermillion and umber pigments for the background, as the portraits Vaughan and Nicklin commissioned of Washington that same year. Barratt and Miles propose that the known portraits of the Vaughan type, all painted within a short period in 1795, can be grouped into different subtypes.13 The compositional similarities between the portraits of the first group, such as the Metropolitan Museum’s Phillips-Brixey portrait and the portrait held in Winterthur’s collection, include elaborate folds in the shirt ruffle and a thin queue ribbon. This Nicklin portrait, along with the Coleman portrait (in a private collection) and the portrait at the University of Virginia, share “a flat red background with no curtain, shirt ruffles that are simpler than the previous group, and a wide queue ribbon. Given their similarity in details to the first group, it can be suggested that they closely follow the first examples in date of execution.”14 The Nicklin and Coleman portraits, pictured below, clearly were the result of the same hand, painting at nearly exactly the same time. Stuart featured a long, angular face, thick queue ribbon and burnt umber background in both works.
Although cut down slightly (to an oval shape), fortunately, the Nicklin portrait has lost very little in terms of height and width; when compared to other Vaughan type portraits, this depiction of Washington is slightly larger than some examples and slightly smaller than others. However, when comparing this portrait to the original Vaughan at the National Gallery, Stuart’s treatment of the background’s red tones, the carefully added details around the mouth and eyes, and even the shirt ruffle reveal nearly identical similarities between the two paintings. Stuart masterfully captured the stoic and dignified nature of the president in this portrait, successfully portraying Washington as a true national icon. As nearly all of the 17 documented Vaughan type portraits are now held within museum collections, this is a rare opportunity to purchase such a significant piece of American history.
1 Dunlap, William. History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States: Vol. 1. New York: George P. Scott and Co. Printers, 1834. 196-197.
2 Dunlap, 196-197.
3 Barratt, Carrie Rebora and Ellen G. Miles. Gilbert Stuart. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004. 166-176.
4 Barratt and Miles, 154.
5 Stuart, Jane. “The Stuart Portraits of Washington.” Scribner’s Monthly, 12, no.3 (July 1876): 373.
6 Griswold, Rufus. The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1856. 329.
7 Richards, Nancy E. “The City Home of Benjamin Chew, Sr., and his Family: A Case Study of the Textures of Life.” Philadelphia: Cliveden of the National Trust, Inc., 1996. http://www.cliveden.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Benjamin-Chew-townhouse.pdf. Accessed January 28, 2016. 61.
8 Griswold, 270.
9 Stuart, 374.
10 Griswold, 411.
11 Barratt and Miles, 204.
12 Lawrence, Park. Gilbert Stuart: An Illustrated Descriptive List of His Works, Vol. II. New York: William Edwin Rudge, 1926. 551.
13 Barratt and Miles, 141.
14 Barratt and Miles, 142.