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PROPERTY FROM THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY, ASTOR, LENOX AND TILDEN FOUNDATIONS

Gilbert Stuart
1755-1828
GEORGE WASHINGTON (THE CONSTABLE-HAMILTON PORTRAIT)
Estimate
10,000,00015,000,000
LOT SOLD. 8,136,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT
3

PROPERTY FROM THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY, ASTOR, LENOX AND TILDEN FOUNDATIONS

Gilbert Stuart
1755-1828
GEORGE WASHINGTON (THE CONSTABLE-HAMILTON PORTRAIT)
Estimate
10,000,00015,000,000
LOT SOLD. 8,136,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

American Paintings, Drawings & Sculpture including Property from The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

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New York

Gilbert Stuart
1755-1828
GEORGE WASHINGTON (THE CONSTABLE-HAMILTON PORTRAIT)
oil on canvas
50 by 40 in.
(127 by 101.6 cm)
Painted in Philadelphia in 1797.
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Provenance

General Alexander Hamilton (gift from William Kerin Constable), 1797
Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (his wife), 1804
James Alexander Hamilton (their son), 1854
Alexander Hamilton (his son)
Mrs. Alexander Hamilton (his wife), 1889
Bequest to the present owner, 1896

Exhibited

Washington, D.C., National Portrait Gallery, The Spirit of Party:  Hamilton and Jefferson at Odds, September 1992-February 1993, illustrated p. 23
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Gilbert Stuart, October 2004-July 2005, no. 48, pp. 183-4, illustrated color pl. 48

Literature

George C. Mason, Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart, New York, 1879, pp. 98, 113
Elizabeth B. Johnston, Original Portraits of Washington, including Statues, Monuments, and Medals, Boston, 1882, pp. 86-7
Handbook to the New York Public Library: Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations, New York, 1905, p. 33
Gustavus A. Eisen, "Stuart's Three Washingtons," International Studio, February 1923, illustrated p. 393
Mantle Fielding, Gilbert Stuart's Portraits of George Washington, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1923, no. 29, illustrated p. 147
Literary Digest, February 21, 1925, illustrated in color on the cover
Lawrence Park, Gilbert Stuart: An Illustrated Descriptive List of His Works, vols. 2, 4, New York, 1926, no. 30, pp. 855, 861-62, illustrated p. 603
"U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings," vol. 54, February 1928, illustrated pl. 62
Frederic Fairchild Sherman, "Gilbert Stuart's Portraits of George Washington," Art in America, October 1930, p. 270, illustrated p. 265
John Hill Morgan and Mantle Fielding, Life Portraits of Washington and Their Replicas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1931, no. 30, pp. 242, 270-71, illustrated p. 243 (detail) and opposite p. 270
Gustavus A. Eisen, Portraits of Washington, vol. 1, New York, 1932, p. 125-26, illustrated pl. 9
Victor Hugo Paltsits, Washington's Farewell Address, New York, 1935, color frontispiece
R.W. Hill and L.M. Stark, "Washingtoniana in the New York Public Library," and Neal Richmond, "A Provenance Controversy - Did Washington Present a Stuart Portrait  to Alexander Hamilton?," New York Public Library Bulletin, February 1957, pp. 63-72, 77
Charles Merrill Mount, Gilbert Stuart, New York, 1964, pp. 209, 379
Katherine Kuh, "Worth a Thousand Words," Saturday Review of Literature, March 15, 1971, p. 53
Roger B. Stein, Seascape and the American Imagination, New York, 1975, pp. 27-29, 133, illustrated fig. 26
Dorinda Evans, The Genius of Gibert Stuart, Princeton, New Jersey, 1999, p. 83

The present bust of Alexander Hamilton by Giuseppe Ceracchi is the Italian sculptor’s most famous work and the original of eight known versions that inspired hundreds of plaster casts and marble copies throughout the early nineteenth century.  The terra cotta model from which the present work was carved was taken from life in Philadelphia in 1791 or 1792.  The model was then shipped back to Florence where the present sculpture was created.  It was presented to Hamilton by Ceracchi during the artist’s return trip to Philadelphia circa 1794.  At this time, Ceracchi offered his portrait busts of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to their respective sitters; Jefferson accepted his, however Washington declined, feeling that as President it was inappropriate to accept this gift.  Ceracchi’s elegant bust of Hamilton as a youthful Roman senator became immensely popular in the wake of the massive public outpouring of affection that surrounded the first Secretary’s death in 1804.  

Ron Chernow, in his biography Alexander Hamilton, describes Hamilton’s widow’s special fondness for this portrait bust: “When visitors called, the tiny, erect, white-haired lady would grab her cane, rise gamely from a black sofa embroidered with a floral pattern of her own design, and escort them to a Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington (lot 3).  She motioned with pride to a silver wine cooler, tucked discreetly beneath the center table, that had been given to the Hamiltons by Washington himself.  This treasured gift retained a secret meaning for Eliza, for it had been a tacit gesture of solidarity from Washington when her husband was ensnared in the first major sex scandal in American history.  The tour’s highlight stood enshrined in the corner: a marble bust of her dead hero, carved by Italian sculptor, Giuseppe Ceracchi, during Hamilton’s heyday as the first treasury secretary.  Portrayed in the classical style of a noble Roman senator, a toga draped across one shoulder, Hamilton exuded a brisk energy and a massive intelligence in his wide brow, his face illumined by the half smile that often played about his features.  This was how Eliza wished to recall him: ardent, hopeful, and eternally young.  ‘That bust I can never forget,’ one young visitor remembered, ‘for the old lady always paused before it in her tour of the rooms and, leaning on her cane, gazed and gazed, as if she could never be satisfied’” (New York, 2004, prologue).

John Trumbull, who often painted Hamilton from life, used Ceracchi's bust as a guide after Hamilton’s death, most notably for his full-length portrait in the City Hall of New York (1805).  Ulysses Desportes further notes: “The engraving on our ten dollar bill is taken from one of these [Trumbull’s posthumous portraits] and therefore represents the art of Ceracchi more than that of Trumbull” (“Ceracchi’s Bust of Alexander Hamilton,” The Currier Gallery of Art Bulletin, April-June 1969, n.p.).  This bust was also depicted on a United States postage stamp created in 1870. 

Other examples of Ceracchi’s bust of Hamilton can be found in the collections of The Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire; the Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore; The Alexander Hamilton Institute, Ramsey, New Jersey; the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Monticello, Virginia; the National Academy of Design, New York; the Museum of the City of New York; and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.  

GUISEPPE CERACCHI
1751-1801

ALEXANDER HAMILTON

inscribed DE FACIE PHILADELPHIAE/EX ECTIPO FLORENCIAE/FACIEBAT JOS. CERACCHI/CIDDCCLXXXXIV
white marble

height: 19 1/2 in.
(49.5 cm)

Executed in 1794.

PROVENANCE
General Alexander Hamilton, 1794
Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (his wife), 1804
James Alexander Hamilton (their son), 1854
Alexander Hamilton (his son)
Mrs. Alexander Hamilton (his wife), 1889
Bequest to the present owner, 1896

LITERATURE
John C. Hamilton, The Life of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 1, New York, 1834, frontispiece (engraving by Asher B. Durand)
William Dunlap, History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States, vol. 1, New York, 1834, pp. 408-409
John Trumbull, Autobiography, Reminiscences and Letters of John Trumbull, New York, 1841, p. 245
The New York Public Library, Catalogue of Paintings in the Lenox Library, New York, 1897, no. 147, pp. 37-8
Clarence W. Bowen, The History of the Centennial Celebration of the Inauguration of George Washington, New York, 1892, p. 492
Charles Henry Hart, "Life Portraits of Alexander Hamilton," McClure's Magazine, April 1897, pp. 507-508, illustrated p. 511
Allan M. Hamilton, The Intimate Life of Alexander Hamilton, based chiefly upon original family letters and other documents, many of which have never been published, New York, 1910, pp. 33, 34
"Giuseppe Ceracchi in America and His Busts of George Washington," Art Quarterly, Summer 1963, pp. 160, 162, illustrated p. 174
Wayne Craven, Sculpture in America, New York, 1968, p. 54
Ulysse Desportes, "Ceracchi's Bust of Alexander Hamilton," Currier of Art Gallery Bulletin, Manchester, New Hampshire, April-June 1969, pp. 5-6, illustrated
"'Great Men of America' in Roman Guise Sculptured by Guiseppe Ceracchi," Antiques, July 1969, pp. 72-5 illustrated
Paul D. Schweitzer, "William J. Weaver's Secret Art of Multiplying Pictures," Painting and Portrait Making in the American Northeast, Boston, 1994, p. 159, illustrated fig. 4

Catalogue Note

This sale of this portrait will be accompanied by a marble bust of Alexander Hamilton by Giuseppe Ceracchi, as it accompanied the original bequest by Hamilton's descendents' to the Astor Library in 1896.

George Washington (The Constable-Hamilton Portrait) is unique in Gilbert Stuart’s celebrated oeuvre of Washington portraits.  It was commissioned in 1797 during President Washington’s final year in office by New York merchant and landowner William Kerin Constable (1752-1803) as a gift for Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s first Secretary of the Treasury (1789-1795).  Scholars believe the background naval scene refers to Hamilton’s political accomplishments regarding trade and commerce during his term as Secretary.  Within a month of his appointment, Hamilton proposed the creation of a seagoing branch of the military to discourage smuggling and enhance tax collections and less than a year later, Congress authorized the construction of the United States Revenue-Marine, the precursor to the United States Coast Guard.  Hamilton also played a crucial role in creating the United States Navy (the Naval Act of 1794) which protected the cargoes of American merchants.  In his final year in office, he drafted the Jay Treaty, a series of negotiations and demands to cease British seizure of United States ships trading with the West Indies.  The treaty was controversial due to its non-aggressive stance against British offenses, and Washington was hesitant to sign.  Hamilton, however, adamant to maintain friendly relations with Great Britain, advised Washington privately that the treaty would maintain peace.  Washington signed the treaty on August 14, 1795.   Ellen G. Miles observes: “…it may be that if the purpose of the Lansdowne portrait commission was to thank Lord Lansdowne for his support of the American cause during the revolution as well as the signing of the Jay Treaty, this gift from Constable, a New York merchant-trader, to Hamilton, a leading New York Federalist, recognizes Hamilton’s support of the treaty” (Gilbert Stuart, New York, 2004, p. 184). 

Alexander Hamilton (figure 1) along with James Madison and Thomas Jefferson comprised the powerful triumvirate that acted as Washington’s advisors both on the battlefield and in the political arena.   Joseph J. Ellis paints a compelling portrait of the former: “Alexander Hamilton was the third member of this talented trinity, in terms of sheer brainpower probably the brightest of the lot.  While Madison and Jefferson had come up through the Virginia school of politics, which put a premium on an understated style that emphasized indirection and stealth, Hamilton had come out of nowhere (actually impoverished origins in the Caribbean), which produced a dashing, out-of-my-way style that imposed itself ostentatiously, much in the manner of the bayonet charge he had led at Yorktown.  As Washington’s aide-de-camp during the war, Hamilton had occasionally shown himself to be a somewhat feisty and headstrong surrogate son, always searching for an independent command beyond Washington’s shadow.  But his loyalty to his mentor was unquestioned, and his affinity for the way Washington thought was unequaled” (His Excellency, New York, 2005, p. 199).

It was during his service in the army that Hamilton further developed his vehement support for a strong, central government.  After participating in the siege at Yorktown in 1781, which effectively ended the American Revolution, Hamilton served as a member of the Continental Congress from 1782-83, and then retired to open a law office in New York.  He returned to politics in 1786 and focused his career on refuting the Articles of the Confederation and arguing for the supreme authority of a federal government, most famously at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention of 1787, where he signed the Constitution of the United States of America.  To defend this seminal document, he co-authored the Federalist Papers with John Jay and James Madison, which are today considered a classic of political literature.

In 1880, Henry E. Pierrepont, William Constable’s grandson, speculated on the circumstances that surrounded the gift of Washington’s portrait to Hamilton.  He writes: “My grandfather in his letters speaks of his obligations to his counsel Genl. H. for his valuable legal services. Probably this was what prompted the gift of the picture...” (letter to George C. Mason, reprinted in Bulletin of the New York Public Library, New York, 1975, p. 70).  Constable and Hamilton both arrived in New York almost simultaneously.  Hamilton established his law firm in 1783, while in 1784, Constable opened a successful trading business with his brother and a business partner (John Rucker), which included dealings with China.  Their company became one of the greatest merchant houses in New York in the 1790s and Constable became one of the wealthiest merchants, eventually owning a six hundred ton ship named America.  Constable and Hamilton not only maintained a professional relationship, but frequently socialized.  In his History of Lewis County, New York, Franklin Hough quoted the Honorable Ogden Edward’s account of Constable: “I first saw him in 1796, at a dinner party.  Among the distinguished persons present were General Hamilton, Colonel Burr and Volney.  Yet, even in such good company, all eyes and ears were turned to him, and he appeared to be the master spirit…his most intimate associates were Jay and Hamilton, and Robert Morris, and other master spirits of the time…he was an aid to the great and good Lafayette…He lived in splendid style” (Syracuse, New York, 1883).

The present portrait of Washington is one of three works commissioned by Constable in 1797 and all painted about the same time.  The first is a replica of the Lansdowne portrait (Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York), the second is a portrait of Constable himself (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and the third is the present half-length portrait of Washington.  This half-length portrait was obviously based in part on the Lansdowne, and Miles observes: “As in the Lansdowne portrait, the president is dressed in a black velvet suit and white lace shirt ruffles.  His powdered hair is tied in a queue with a saw-toothed black ribbon.  He is seated in a chair similar to the one behind him in the Lansdowne portrait, and across him rests a similar sword with gold ribbon.  And in the near background are a masonry wall with a column and a swirling drape with two tassels.  In other respects the image is quite unlike the Lansdowne: Washington is seated, and he holds a document, illegible except for his signature, G. Washington.  The background seascape is unprecedented in Stuart’s portraits of Washington.  While the intermediary curtain and column in the background scene appear to be based on Pierre-Imbert Drevet’s engraving of Hyacinthe Rigaud’s portrait of Samuel Bernard (figure 2), closer examination suggests that the seascape may portray a specific event” (Gilbert Stuart, p. 184).  In depicting Washington half length and seated, Stuart captures his singularly commanding presence and bulk.  Washington was a famously large man and in Stuart’s portrait he occupies nearly half the compositional space, the three dimensionality of his pose creating an impression of incorruptible solidity and quiet confidence.  While the rich opacity of Washington’s black velvet suit reinforces his physical density, it is Stuart’s carefully worked out geometric structure, especially the underlying use of the pyramid for Washington’s figure, which helps to subliminally communicate to the viewer Washington’s unwavering stability and supreme authority. 

American Paintings, Drawings & Sculpture including Property from The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

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New York