"Unfinished Portrait of George Washington"

Gilbert Stewart 

Gil Stewart was the official painter of the Washington administration, formally recording events like document-signings and the visits of foreign dignitaries in what were called "brush-op" sessions in those pre-camera days. Stewart also produced the classic portrait of Washington that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, as well as the topless portrait of Martha Washington, which has unfortunately been lost.

 

For years supporters and critics alike wondered at how Stewart could turn out his paintings in so little time. His sad secret was revealed only at his death, when he collapsed and died at his easel while working on yet another portrait of the President, this one to be called "Washington in Back Office with Rubenesque Intern."

 

"The unfortunate "artist," alas, had fooled not only Washington, but everyone else. He secretly bought his paintings pre-sketched from the Rudolvo Brothers Discount Art Warehouse in Hoboken, New Jersey, then just filled in the blanks, using the appropriate colors where indicated.

 

This fateful discovery cleared up several mysteries about some of his later work, particularly "Old Glory's" execution in red, white and burnt umber, and the famous "Raspberry Toupee" portrait of Thomas Jefferson. As his vision deteriorated, Stewart apparently had difficulty telling apart the numbers "3" and "8."

 

In papers collected after his death Stewart blames his mathematician father for his disgrace. "I was drawn to painting in spite of my obvious lack of talent," he wrote, "if for no other reason than to defy my father, who insisted that I should give it up as a career and follow the numbers as he had. I did my best to meet him halfway."

 

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