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Robert Butler, Curator of Art,

Two of San Francisco’s successful artists had fascinating ancestry; both of their grandfathers were important figures in the American Revolution, as well as during the first decades of the new Republic.

The first, James E. Stuart (1852-1941) was the grandson of Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), America’s leading portrait painter. The image of George Washington on the one-dollar bill was reproduced from Gilbert’s famous portrait.

The elder Stuart was a better artist than he was a person. In constant trouble over unpaid debts both in England and America, he was self-centered, impulsive and abusive of others, including his family. He was nevertheless highly praised for his artwork. He frequently left his family for periods of time and refused to train his son(s) in art techniques.

One son, the eldest, left home, never to be seen again by his father and for years was unseen for heard of by anyone in the Stuart clan. Later it was revealed that he went north into Maine. He married and had a son (James). In 1860 the family moved to California, settling in the Sacramento River town of Rio Vista.

James went on to a long and successful career as a California landscape artist. His paintings are in many of the western museums; one is in the White House in Washington, DC.

The second artist with interesting roots was Richard DeTrevelle (1864-1919). Richard’s grandfather came to America with Lafayette to fight with the colonists for independence (compare, if you will that with Gilbert Stuart who jumped on the first boat bound for England when hostilities commenced).

With the war over the elder DeTrevelle received a land grant in South Carolina and became a successful plantation owner. His son entered politics, and was elected Lt. Governor of South Carolina. As the Civil War was approaching, the family migrated to California. As a young man Richard became an illustrator and later artist. His studio was on Clement Street in San Francisco. His paintings were very popular and were sold in the city’s best stores.


Stuart painted over 5,000 pictures he systematically named, numbered, dated and priced each picture on the back). DeTrevelle was also very prolific. This seemed to be a necessity if the artists were to live off his talent. Would their work have to be better if the pressure of quantity production was not as great?

The frontier society was hardly conducive to artists; gold seekers, ranchers, cowboys, gamblers and bawdyhouse habitués were an unlikely group to become art collectors. Nevertheless, many fine artists did come West. How would you explain this?


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