The Skater (Portrait of William Grant), 1782
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, Andrew W. Mellon Collection
oil on canvas
This unorthodox, full-length portrait was the talk of the 1782 Royal Academy exhibition, and established the career of the fledgling American artist. The motif of skating, or any presentation of vigorous movement at all, had no precedent in Britain's “Grand Manner” tradition of society portraiture. But on the cold winter’s day Gilbert Stuart sat down to paint his subject William Grant, the Scottish sitter remarked that, “the day was better suited for skating than sitting for one’s portrait.” So they went for a skate, and a masterpiece was born.