Gilbert Stuart was the most brilliant portrait painter in America after the Revolution. He is best known for his paintings of George Washington. His "Athenaeum" portrait of Washington is produced on currency, and is familiar to anyone who has looked at a one-dollar bill.
Gilbert Stuart was born on December 3, 1755. He was born in Saunderstown, Rhode Island where his father, a Scottish immigrant, worked on the first waterpower snuff mill in the colonies. Stuart's mother was from a large land-owning family in Middletown Rhode Island. Stuart lived in Saunderstown until he was seven. When his father's business failed his family had to sell their interests at the snuff mill. They moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where they lived in a house Stuart later described as " a hovel on a Bannister's Wharf." .
It is in Newport where Stuart began to exhibit his skill as an artist. In 1771, Stuart began studying art with a Scottish portrait painter named Cosmo Alexander. In 1772, Stuart accompanied Alexander to Scotland. In Scotland Stuart studied at the University of Glasgow. Stuart soon returned to Newport due to the death of the older Cosmo Alexander. .
In 1775, when Stuart was nineteen, he sailed alone to London. After he had been in London for two years he wrote to the artist Benjamin West, begging him for help because he could not support himself. West, and American, who had been living in London since 1763, took him on as a pupil and assistant. From 1777 to 1782, Stuart worked as an assistant for West. Stuart soon had his own studio in which he was no able to work as a portrait painter. In 1782, Stuart completed his first major portrait called The Skater. This enabled Stuart to establish his own buissness as a portrait painter. .
In 1786, Stuart married Charlotte Coates, an English girl who would eventually have twelve children with Stuart. Stuart and his new wife would move to Dublin.