Jane: Heir to the Stuart Genius

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detail of Portrait of Gilbert Stuart by Jane Stuart


Jane Stuart

b. 1812 (1808) Boston MA   d. 1888 Newport, RI

July 9, 1828 Gilbert Stuart died, Jane 16 years old

Jane Stuart is a fascinating woman and clearly a talented artist. Born in 1812 (possibly as early as 1808) Jane was the youngest of twelve children born to Gilbert Stuart and his wife Charlotte Coates Stuart.   While she did not benefit from formal instruction from her father (he refused to “teach” her), she was keen at listening to and observing her father’s instruction to other artists. She helped in Stuart’s studio and he fondly nicknamed her “Boy.” Largely self-taught and considered a prodigy even before her father’s death, Jane ground paints, filled in backgrounds, and finished the secondary areas of Stuart’s paintings. She also painted her own works.

Stuart called Jane his “best copyist” and had said that she painted better than he did at that age.

Before his last illness, Stuart made a plan to send Jane to London to study portrait painting under George Downey. This did not pan out. Henry Fay, a long-time friend of Gilbert’s arranged for Jane to study in Georgia, but her mother would not allow her to travel so far alone.   Henry Fay then arranged for Jane to study in New York, where she exhibited in the New York Academy of Fine Arts in 1833.

At Gilbert’s death, Jane was described as the most worthy to be his heir because of her potential as an artist.

In 1831, soon after Gilbert’s death, the family moved to Newport and Jane became the chief breadwinner for the remaining members of her family, her mother and three sisters. She earned income by painting portraits and working as an art teacher.

She maintained a studio in Boston until August of 1858, when a fire destroyed a great deal of her work as well as correspondence and mementos from her father. After the fire, she returned to Newport and lived there until her death.

She was intelligent and resourceful in providing for her mother and sisters after the death of her father, mainly by painting and selling copies of the works of her father as well as other artists.   Jane Stuart was a “personality” in Newport, renowned for her sharp wit and entertaining anecdotes and stories. Jane was the keeper of her father’s flame. She defended his reputation and wrote three biographical articles about Gilbert Stuart for Scribner’s Monthly.

Margaret O’Connor, Executive Director,

Curator of Jane: Heir to the Stuart Genius