Hercules: Gilbert Stuart’s Most Fascinating Subject

Gilbert Stuart was the Annie Liebovitz of his day: Every power player wanted to sit for one of the painter’s portraits, and many did, including six sitting presidents, many of their wives, congressmen, merchants, and “influencers” of the era. No doubt you’d recognize his most famous work: the George Washington portrait Dolly Madison saved from the burning White House during the War of 1812.

That said, looking at a gallery of Stuart’s work becomes tedious. It’s white face after white face, powdered wig after powdered wig — but wait, here’s someone interesting: the only person of color in his collection. It’s a man known only as Hercules, George Washington’s enslaved chef.

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