National Gallery of Art Restores Gilbert Stuart Portraits of Founding Fathers

  • Independent conservator Gay Myers removing the varnish from Gilbert Stuart's Abigail Smith Adams (Mrs.  John Adams), (1800/1815).  National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mrs.  Robert Homans

    Independent conservator Gay Myers removing the varnish from Gilbert Stuart's Abigail Smith Adams (Mrs. John Adams), (1800/1815). National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mrs. Robert Homans

The National Gallery of Art's portraits of George Washington and John Adams are among a select group of 16 Federal-era paintings in its collection by American master Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828) that are being conserved.

A team of conservators are removing varnishes that have discolored with age, old retouchings that do not match the original paint, and structural problems such as cracks in the paint.

Discolored varnish removed from Stuart's portraits of John and Abigail Adams, begun in 1800 but not finished until 1815, exposed fresh new detail in the faces and clothing.

"The conservation work to date has resulted in major improvements in the appearance of the paintings and has greatly increased the stability of the paint layers. A wonderful group of historically significant portraits will soon be available for exhibition," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art.

Several of the newly restored portraits will be unveiled in the installation of Masterpieces of American Furniture from the Kaufman Collection, 1700–1830, opening on October 7, 2012.

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