Curator of Art, sfmuseum.org
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
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
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.
HAS IT OCCURRED TO YOU?
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
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