Captain John Gell

Artist: Gilbert Stuart (American, North Kingston, Rhode Island 1755–1828 Boston, Massachusetts)

Date: 1785

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 94 1/2 x 58 1/2 in. (240 x 148.6 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Purchase, Dorothy Schwartz Gift, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and 2000 Benefit Fund, 2000

Accession Number: 2000.450


The second of only seven full-length portraits painted by Stuart, this grand and imposing work follows the precepts outlined by Sir Joshua Reynolds for blending ideal and individual characteristics in modern portraits. Stuart conveys Gell's heroism with theatrical expression, a real character made ideal through judicious use of fine strokes and bravura sweeps. The painting suggests spontaneity in execution, but is in fact a work of considerable artistic strategy. In 1785, Gell (1738–1806) had just completed his post on the Monarca, a seventy-gun ship that he commanded in a series of naval engagements against the French.