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Gilbert Stuart achieved fame as a portrait painter in both England and America. When he returned to America from England in 1793, he found himself in a homeland that was foreign to him. Politically, there was now a United States instead of thirteen separate colonies. Artistically, the fashionable style he had adopted for British and Irish sitters was highly inappropriate for Yankee merchants' forthright tastes.

Complaining about the literalness required of him in America, Stuart quipped, "In England my efforts were compared with those of Van Dyck, Titian, and other great painters—here they are compared with the works of the Almighty!" The Almighty had given Catherine Yates a bony face and an appraising character, and that is exactly what Stuart had to portray. Not wishing to waste time posing for an artist, this wife of a New York importer industriously attends to her sewing.

Yet Stuart's brilliant paint manipulation generates a verve few other artists on either side of the Atlantic could have matched. Every passage contains some technical tour de force, employing a variety of thick or thin, opaque or translucent oil paints for the fabrics, needle, thimble, wedding band, flesh, and fingernails. It is little wonder that Mrs. Richard Yates has become one of America's most famous paintings, both as an artistic masterpiece and as a visual symbol of the early republic's rectitude.

Details

  • Title: Catherine Brass Yates (Mrs. Richard Yates)
  • Date Created: 1793/1794
  • Physical Dimensions: w63.5 x h76.2 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Andrew W. Mellon Collection
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • painter: Gilbert Stuart
  • Theme: portrait, female
  • School: American
  • Provenance: The sitter's daughter, Catherine Yates Pollock [c. 1760-1805] and her husband, George Pollock [1762-1820], New York and New Orleans; their son, Carlile Pollock [1791-1845], New Orleans; his daughter, Marie Louise Pollock Chiapella [1828-1902]; possibly to her son, Henry Chiapella [1849-c. 1908]; his niece, Louise Chiapella Formento, New Orleans; sold 1911 to Isaac Monroe Cline [1861-1955] New Orleans;[1] purchased 16 January 1918 by Thomas B. Clarke [1848-1931], New York;[2] his estate; sold as part of the Clarke collection on 29 January 1936, through (M. Knoedler & Co., New York), to The A.W. Mellon Education and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1940 to NGA. [1] Cline wrote Thomas B. Clarke in New York on 11 February 1918 that he had purchased the portraits of Mrs. Yates, her husband Richard Yates [NGA 1942.8.29], and Lawrence Reid Yates [NGA 1940.1.5] in 1911, and had later bought portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Yates' daughter Catherine Yates Pollock [NGA 1942.8.19] and her husband George Pollock [NGA 1942.8.18] (NGA curatorial files). Cline told David E. Finley that he had purchased all five Stuart portraits from Formento; letter of 1 March 1948, in NGA curatorial files. For Cline's dates see Historic New Orleans Collection, Encyclopedia of New Orleans Artists 1718-1918, New Orleans, 1987, 81. For the Pollock family see Horace Edwin Hayden, Pollock Genealogy, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1883, 48; letters from Bureau of Archives, St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans, 3 April 1919 and 23 July 1918; "Last Will and Testament of George Pollock," signed 2 September 1819, New Orleans, and will of Carlile Pollock, signed 16 April 1845, New Orleans (copies, NGA curatorial files). [2] The name of the seller and the date of purchase are recorded in a copy of Portraits by Early American Artists of the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries Collected by Thomas B. Clarke, Exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1928, annotated with information from files of M. Knoedler & Co., NY (copy in NGA curatorial records and in NGA library). Clarke sent Clarence J. Dearden of Art House, Inc., to New Orleans to negotiate the purchase of the five portraits; Dearden confirmed the purchase in a telegram to Clarke on 16 January 1918 (NGA curatorial files). [2] The name of the seller and the date of purchase are recorded in a copy of Portraits by Early American Artists of the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries Collected by Thomas B. Clarke, Exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1928, annotated with information from files of M. Knoedler & Co., NY (copy in NGA curatorial records and in NGA library). Clarke sent Clarence J. Dearden of Art House, Inc., to New Orleans to negotiate the purchase of the five portraits; Dearden confirmed the purchase in a telegram to Clarke on 16 January 1918 (NGA curatorial files).

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