America’s Most Famous Unfinished Artwork

This summer, I will be travelling to Boston, and when I do, I’ll be sure to swing by the Museum of Fine Arts to see Gilbert Stewart’s iconic George Washington Portrait.

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ABOVE: Gilbert Stuart, George Washington, 1796, oil on canvas, 47 x 37 inches, The Museum of Fine Arts, Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In 1796, renowned portraitist Gilbert Stuart was commissioned to paint George and Martha Washington. George was reluctant to sit for another portrait (Stuart had painted him the previous year), but agreed, so long as the finished products became the property of his wife.

Before completion however, Stuart decided that he liked these portraits better than previous efforts, and in order to avoid handing them over to Martha, he deliberately left them unfinished. Even worse, he theused the president’s portrait as a model for numerous commissions, and held on to both paintings until his death in 1828.

In 1869, Stuart’s image of George Washington was placed on the $1 bill, and to this day, is one of the world’s most iconic portraits. It is owned jointly by the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I’m hoping to see it this summer.

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