Patterson v. Bonaparte and the Interesting Case of a Marriage, the validity of which was argued in 1861 by French attorney, Antoine-Louise Berryer and a Beautiful Bride, Elizabeth Patterson, as portrayed in 1804 by the Artist Gilbert Stuart in Washington City (with a sheer dress, a prince, a republican President, an angry Emperor...and a circle of beautiful, ambitious women led by Dolley Madison)
MetadataShow full item record
Gilbert Stuart completed the portrait of the new bride, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, as well as portraits of 15 other women during his Washington period from late 1803 to early 1805. Scholars have often discounted this period in Stuart's work for its "compositional simplicity" and repeat choice of a stock white dress for the portraits of many of these women. But to dismiss this period is Stuart's work is to dismiss a period when Stuart positioned himself in the center of the "first circle" in Washington, a circle that included Dolley Madison and her most ambitious friends. Women, in this era after the American and French revolutions, had the freedom to enter into the public discourse. They were liberated from many of the more conservative principals of the early colonial period, shedding their restrictive clothing in the process. Stuart's salon, a highly visible public venue, as well as his ability to portray the strength of character and a direct, forthright gaze of the American woman, all made him extremely popular with women. Stuart, a critical force within the construction of a new image for this Nation, based on Jeffersonian ideas of republicanism, based his practice on simple, natural design influences. My goal is to more thoroughly examine Stuart's decisions in composing Betsy Bonaparte's portrait, as well as the facts surrounding her marriage to Napoleon Bonaparte's youngest brother. I will then consider why Elizabeth Bonaparte's wedding portrait represents the chef d'ouvre of his work during this period and how the young bride served as his muse, influencing his Washington style, and the women who followed her into the painter's studio.