Many American portraits depicting presidents and notable colonial Newporters fill the available wall space in each of the three main rooms of the Library. The man most responsible for creating the collections was artist Charles Bird King, who beginning in 1817 made numerous gifts of paintings, his own and those he acquired. Over the years the collections has been enhanced by further gifts.
Gilbert Stuart Self-Portrait at 24, c. 1778. Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Oil on Canvas. Bequest of Louisa Lee Waterhouse.
Gilbert Stuart was America's great early portrait painter. He was born over a snuff mill in North Kingston, Rhode Island, and arrived to Newport virtually a penniless begger. He picked up artistic training from a traveling Scottish painter, Cosmo Alexander, and his gifts were soon recognized by Newport merchants who commissioned the earliest portraits of the teenaged Stuart. When the Revolutionary War began, Stuart studied and work in England. Upon his return to the United States twenty years later he quicly became the painter most in demand to honor the great men of the new Republic.
Mary Winthrop Wanton, c. 1740. Robert Feke (1707-1752). Oil on Canvas. Gift of Angelica Gilbert Gardiner.
Mary Winthrop Wanton was the wife of Joseph Wanton, Rhode Island's last colonial governor. The fashionable decolletage of her gown is cut so low that the scandalized Redwood directors a century later asked artist Jane Stuart (Gilbert Stuart's daughter) to paint in a modest nosegay of flowers.
Robert Feke was one of the earilest native Colonial painters, he was probably born in Oyster Bay, Long Island. His portraits include prominent members of families in Boston and Philadelphia, as well as Newport, where he lived with his wife, Eleanor Cozzens.
Henry Collins, c. 1736. John Smibert (1688-1751). Oil on Canvas. The Gladys Moore Vanderbilt Széchényi Memorial Collection.
Henry Collins (1699-1764) was a Newport merchant, philanthropist, and patron of the arts. He was nicknamed, "Newport's Lorenzo de Medici" for his generous and enthusiastic patronage of the emerging cultural life of colonial Newport. He donated the land on which the library was built, once known as a bowling green.
John Smibert, considered one of the earliest American portrait painters, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He began as a common house painter and eventually gained admittance to the Great Queen Street Academy and Thornhills London Academy, where he was a fellow student of Hogarth. IN 1738 he came to America with Reverend George Berkeley, landed in Newport, and settled in Boston, where he died in 1751.
George Washington, c. 1858. Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860)(after Charles Willson Peale 1741-1827). Oil on Canvas. Bequest of Roderick Terry, Jr.
This painting is the earliest known depiction of George Washington, painted when he was only forty years old.
Rembrandt Peale, son of Charles Willson Peale, was born in Pennsylvaniz. He received instruction in art from his father at an early age and at seventeen obtained a sitting with George Washington. In 1801, he went to England to study and upon his return established himself in Philadelphia. In 1807 he went abroad again, living some time in Paris. When he returned he established a Museum and Gallery of Painting in the City of Baltimore.
Charles Bird King Self-Portrait at 30, c. 1815. Charles Bird King (1785-1862). Oil on Canvas. Bequest of Charles Bird King.
Charles Bird King was born in Newport, made his living in Washington, DC as a painter of political figures and other celebrities of the day. Over the years, King contributed handsomely to the Library, giving money, books, and scores of paintings. Upon his death, he gave the Redwood his own personal library, volumes of bound engravings, a significant sum of money and 75 additional paintings.