Gilbert Stuart (American, North Kingston, Rhode Island 1755–1828 Boston, Massachusetts)
Oil on canvas
94 1/2 x 58 1/2 in. (240 x 148.6 cm)
Purchase, Dorothy Schwartz Gift, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and 2000 Benefit Fund, 2000
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 753
In 1785 the British naval officer John Gell (1738–1806) had just completed his duty on the seventy-gun Monarca, which he had commanded in a series of battles against the French. For this portrait, Stuart used as a model Sir Joshua Reynolds’s heroic "Commodore Augustus Keppel" (1752; National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK). In homage to Reynolds, Stuart employed a combination of fine and slapdash brushwork, conveying an image of both heroism and naturalism. He exhibited "Captain John Gell" at London’s Royal Academy of Arts in 1785, when the British portraitist John Hoppner commented that it was “admirably well-painted without trickery to dazzle the eye or mislead the judgment.”
The sitter, d. 1806; to his brother, Philip Gell (1775-1842), Hopton Hall, Derbyshire, England; by descent in the family until 1992; sale, Christie's London, 1992; Hirschl & Adler Gallery, 1992; private collection, 1993; with Hirschl & Adler, 1995.