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Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) Portrait of Daniel Webster (1782-1852), 1825 Oil on canvas, framed. $80,000-120,000

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Lynda Cain
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Published: 13 March 2017

In Praise of an American Statesman | Gilbert Stuart’s Portrait of Daniel Webster

It is with great pleasure and anticipation that Freeman’s will offer the important and well-documented Portrait of Daniel Webster by renowned artist Gilbert Stuart in its upcoming April 26 American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts auction. This portrait was commissioned in 1825 by the affluent Boston manufacturer Isaac P. Davis--an active patron of American artists who was a close friend of both the portrait's artist and subject.

Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) Portrait of Daniel Webster (1782-1852), 1825 Oil on canvas, framed. $80,000-120,000Lawrence Park discusses this portrait in Gilbert Stuart: An Illustrated Descriptive List of his Works (1926), remarking that it  "...has a depth of expression for which (Stuart) was so remarkable.”  Park recounts Webster's approval of his likeness: “One day while visiting Mr. Davis, Webster stood for some time before the picture and, making a low bow to it, said, ‘I am willing that it shall go down to posterity.’” 

This portrait hung in Davis’s Boston parlor until he presented it to Webster, who displayed it in his family home in Marshfield, Massachusetts. In 1878, it was rescued from a house fire by Webster's descendants and subsequently became the property of Dedham, Massachusetts politician, George Frederick Williams (1852-1932). The portrait later joined the collection of Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge (1882-1973), whose estate was sold by Sotheby's in 1975. At this auction, the portrait was re-acquired by a member of the Webster family who then gifted it to the Holderness School in New Hampshire.

As a brilliant representation of a young Massachusetts Congressman, this portrait is the meeting of two of the nineteenth century’s great American talents. Webster was one of the most highly regarded Constitutional scholars, courtroom attorneys, diplomats and politicians of his time. Besides the House of Representatives, he also served in the Senate, twice as Secretary of State, and ran for the office of President on the Whig Party ticket.  Nationally known for his spectacular oratory skills,  Webster’s 1830 address, “Second Reply to Hayne,” is regarded as the most eloquent speech ever delivered in Congress.  In that speech, he describes the U.S. government as “made for the people, made by the people and answerable to the people,” later paraphrased by Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. Webster championed America’s Union and put forth compromises to avoid a Civil War.

Comparably, Stuart was one of the era's most gifted, prolific and successful portrait painters of America’s early nationhood.  After studying in London and Dublin, Stuart gained popularity overseas and his portraits were sought after on both sides of the Atlantic. Stuart won commissions from a host of notable figures, including Kings George III and IV; Abigail and John Adams; Thomas Jefferson; James Monroe; and, most famously, George Washington.  By the end of his career, Stuart had painted more than 1,000 portraits of politically and socially prominent Americans.  His paintings of the Founding Fathers have frequently been used as models for engravings and are often the most recognizable images of their respective sitters.

To be offered 04/26/17: Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) Portrait of Daniel Webster (1782-1852), 1825. Oil on canvas, framed. Estimate $80,000-120,000.

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