Portrait of a Lady

Artist: Gilbert Stuart
Portrait of a Lady, a painting

Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), Portrait of a Lady, c. 1800, oil on canvas,
30 x 25 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art,
gift of Dr. Jay S. Broadbent.

Commentary by Mary Farahnakian
Professor of Design and Technology
Curator, BYU Theater Media Arts Historic Clothing Collection

Compared with its contemporary paintings, the fashion of the apparel in Gibert Stuart’s painting is very similar to the work of Jacques-Louis David, a French artist. Thus, I can approximate that this Stuart painting was done between 1785-1789.

It is interesting to note that the facial impression of Stuart’s ladies is almost the same in all his female portraits. The pose of the woman in writing and the quality of the apparel in this Stuart painting portrays his subject as a wealthy and sophisticated woman of the time. Her hair worn in grand coiffure with ringlets in the back , was referred to by the French as a la Herisson or hedgehog. It was common for the ladies to use hair pieces or extentions to achieve this hair style. Like in this portrait, the fashionable ladies used white powder for their faces and rouge for their cheeks and lips. To contrast with their white facial makeup, ladies often darkened their eyebrows.

The costume portrays a lady in latest fashion. In this period the soft and delicate cotton fabric was most fashionabe and was generally imported from India. This costume was made of soft, light-weight cotton with a low square neckline. It was finished with with a fichu, a piece of sheer, almost transparent fabric worn like a scarf around the neck to cover the low neckline. The three quarter sleeves were made of two pieces, the upper poof and lower section were separated with a decorative band at the connection. The sleeve ends with either a band or a frill of lace. It is through these details that we can place this portrait by Gilbert Stuart in the late 1780s.

Return to Gallery
Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825), Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and His Wife, c. 1788, oil on canvas, 102 1/4 x 76 5/8 inches, Metropolitan Museum of Art (www.metmuseum.org), purchase of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman Gift in honor of Everett Fahy.

Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825), Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and His Wife, c. 1788, oil on canvas, 102 1/4 x 76 5/8 inches, Metropolitan Museum of Art (www.metmuseum.org), purchase of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman Gift in honor of Everett Fahy.