Gilbert Stuart painted over 1,000 portraits throughout his career, most notably, those of the first six U.S. presidents. But his most famous work is his “unfinished” portrait of George Washington, the image of which today appears on the one dollar bill. This iconic portrait is dubbed “The Athenaeum,” and it is displayed in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Nowadays, the place where Gilbert Stuart was born and raised in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, is a museum, and a beautiful one at that, surrounded by a forest and a pond. It’s a registered historic site where you will find the Stuart house as well as a snuff mill believed to be the first colonial mill. There’s also an old gristmill that was adjacent to the house, an herb garden and fish ladders, and hiking trails that will reward you with a wonderful view of Carr Pond.
The welcome center houses some original painting as well as seasonal exhibitions, and there is a tour guide who will regale you with interesting stories and anecdotes from the painter’s life—such as the fact that he used the “unfinished” portrait of Washington to paint some 130 copies, which he sold it for $100 each. Or how Stuart had to paint the portrait of Catherine Brass Yates twice since the famed writer Richard Yates was not satisfied with the outcome and argued that his wife did not look beautiful enough. Stuart acceded and repainted Catherine, but commented that he was given a potato and was asked to paint a peach! This painting is also exhibited in the National Gallery of Art.
Know Before You Go
The site is open from April until Columbus day weekend. Photos are only allowed outside, not inside the house or the museum. Hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m with tours given every hour. Admission fee is $10 for the general public, $6 for children (6-12) and free for members. Boat rentals are available for members only.
The hike is about 35 minutes so you don't need extreme skills to enjoy this beautiful place. Along the hiking path you will also encounter a historic colonial graveyard where Benjamin Hammond, owner of the gristmill, and his family are buried.