GEORGE AND MARTHA WASHINGTON'S LACE GIVEN TO GILBERT STUART FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON'S PORTRAITS, 18TH CENTURY
This lace fragment worn by George Washington is accompanied by a small handwritten note outlining its provenance tying Martha Washington to a story of artistic intrigue. The note states, "This piece of lace was cut from a shirt of Gen. Washington, which was given by Mrs. Washington to Gilbert Stuart, that he might copy the ruffle, in a portrait of the Gen. It was given to my cousin Mr. Brinley by Miss Jane Stuart at Newport [Rhode Island] Oct 14 1865 & he gave to me this fragment Aug 28 1871."
Jane Stuart (1812-1888) was the daughter of the artist Gilbert Stuart. She lived in Newport, Rhode Island, from 1831 until her death in 1888. The George Washington Library and Archives at Mount Vernon notes an 1858 letter from Jane and her sister Anne Stuart to a Mrs. Fisk stating Stuart received a "piece of lace ruffle from Washington's linen shirt… by Mrs. Washington when he was finishing the General's portrait." Two similar lace fragments are in the collection of George Washington's Mount Vernon (W-448/A and B), and a third is in the collection of the Dorothy Quincy Homestead in Quincy, MA.
Another George Washington portraitist of the period, Rembrandt Peale, claimed he had never seen Washington wearing elitist lace "ruffles," notably represented in Stuart's portrait hanging in the White House. To counter Peale's accusation and defend her father's character, Anne Stuart replied, "We [have] in our possession some lace which my father cut from Washington's linen. The circumstances were these: My father asked Mrs. Washington if she could let him have a piece of lace, such as the General wore, to paint from. She said, ‘Certainly,' and did it make any difference if it were old. He replied, ‘Certainly not, I only wish to give the general effect.' She then brought the linen with the lace on it, and said, ‘Keep it, it may be of use for other pictures.' I have given away this lace an inch at a time, until it has all disappeared; the largest piece I gave to the late Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis, who had it framed." (Mantle Fielding, "Gilbert Stuart's Portraits of George Washington, 1923, p. 81).
For other examples of Stuart's detailed rendering of Washington's lace, see the Lansdowne Portrait in The White House Collection and the portrait in the National Gallery (1954.9.2.) [https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.42938.html.] A strong resemblance to this lace is evidenced in a 1795 portrait of George Washington by Swedish artist Adolph Ulrich Wertmuller in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (24.109.82), which clearly shows the "fussy lace ruff" worn by Washington.
The note with the lace is inside an envelope from Mrs. Thomas Hooker. The Brinleys are related to the Putnam-Brinley-Malbone family, and many lived in Connecticut and Rhode Island, descending from Colonel Francis Brinley (1690-1765), whose grandson married the granddaughter of Revolutionary War General Israel Putnam.
By descent to Mrs. Thomas Hooker through the Putnam-Brinley-Malbone Family to present owner.
Lace: 1 x 1 3/4 in. (2.5 x 4.4 cm.)
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