Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828)
MRS. MICHAEL KEPPELE (CATHERINE CALDWELL), c. 1800
Oil on canvas
28 3/8 x 24 3/8 inches,
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William A. Siebenthaler
MRS. MICHAEL KEPPELE (CATHERINE CALDWELL)
Gilbert Stuart is most famous for giving us the portrait of George Washington we see on the one-dollar bill. Of course, he painted many other people, including this one of Catherine Caldwell, the wife of Michael Keppele. Portraiture has a number of purposes, one of them being to commemorate an important person, such as Washington. Another purpose was, and continues to be, to recognize and celebrate the special people in our lives, especially our spouses and our children. In a portrait, we hope to see ourselves at our best; in our finest clothes, in our most flattering pose. To become an expert in portrait painting, Stuart sailed for England in 1775 from America, on the eve of the Revolutionary War. There, he mastered the intricacies of interpreting a face with oil paints and a brush. We see in this painting of Catherine Caldwell that the artist makes her face smooth and glowing, and he puts her hand in a graceful position appropriate to a lady of high social standing. In short, Stuart knew how to make his sitters appear at their best, ensuring not only that they would be happy, but also that he would continue to receive more portrait commissions.