Layover in Houston, en route to Bentonville | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Layover in Houston, en route to Bentonville

Posted By on Tue, Aug 8, 2006 at 12:58 PM

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Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which will open in Bentonville in 2009, today announced it is loaning its most prized painting -- Gilbert Stuart's Constable-Hamilton portrait of George Washington -- to Houston's Museum of Fine Arts for the next year.

Full release after the jump.





MFAH Displays Loan of Famous Portrait of George Washington by American Portraitist Gilbert Stuart

Distinctive Painting from Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art to be on View in the American Galleries of the Beck Building for Next Year

Houston, Aug. 8 — A major portrait of George Washington by the American painter Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) is now on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, courtesy of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.  This is the first public presentation of the painting, known as George Washington (The Constable-Hamilton Portrait), since its purchase by Crystal Bridges at auction last year.  It is installed in the Kilroy Gallery of the Audrey Jones Beck Building, where it will be on view for the next year.

“The MFAH is thrilled to host this likeness of our first president while the Crystal Bridges Museum is being readied for its public opening,” said Peter C. Marzio, director at the MFAH.  “Gilbert Stuart,” said Emily Ballew Neff, curator of American painting and sculpture at the MFAH, “is one of the finest portrait painters of any era.  Although the MFAH has two portraits by Gilbert Stuart, both at Bayou Bend, neither is of George Washington, so this is a spectacular opportunity for the public, and schoolchildren in particular, to see an outstanding portrait of Stuart’s greatest subject.”

Crystal Bridges is envisioned as a premier national art institution dedicated to American art and artists.  According to founder Alice Walton, the museum’s goal is to bring to life America’s heritage through the eyes of artists for years to come and to make masterworks such as the George Washington portrait accessible to the public.  “Collaborating with other institutions will be an important focus of Crystal Bridges, even before we open,” said Bob Workman, Crystal Bridges executive director.  “We are delighted to share George Washington (The Constable-Hamilton Portrait) with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as this piece brings to life in a compelling way a significant time in our country’s history.”

Painted in 1797, during George Washington’s final year in office, the portrait is unique among the artist’s works.  It was commissioned by the New York City merchant William Kerin Constable as a gift for Alexander Hamilton, who served as Secretary of the Treasury during Washington’s first term as president.  The portrait descended through the Hamilton family in the 1800s until 1896, when it was bequeathed to the New York Public Library, where it resided until its purchase by Crystal Bridges.

The portrait is the traditional size of an 18th-century English half-portrait, 50 x 40 inches, and depicts a formally posed first president seated in a gilt armchair. A classical column, swirling draperies, and tassels are in the intermediary ground, and a naval scene, possibly a battle or

Crystal Bridges Portrait of George Washington  – page 2 of 4

skirmish, where both sea and sky are visible, is in the background.  The seascape in the background is unique among Stuart’s portraits of Washington and lends a vividly different aura to the portrait.  Washington himself is seated obliquely to the left and holds a document with his
signature.  He is dressed in a black velvet suit, and his white shirt has fine lace ruffles at the wrists and throat.  His powdered hair is tied back with a saw-toothed black ribbon, and his left arm cradles a sword with a gold ribbon.  The portrait’s overall effect is of that of a composed, dignified man of great power and authority.

Although it’s not known precisely why Constable, a wealthy trading merchant who owned his own ship, gave the portrait to Hamilton, it is known that they had both a professional and social relationship.  At the time, Hamilton had a successful New York law practice.  Hamilton himself was one of Washington’s most valued advisors, and was among the four members of Washington’s first cabinet, serving as the first Secretary of the Treasury.  Hamilton had a keen interest in the sea and proposed the creation of the entity that was the precursor to the U.S. Coast Guard.  He was also instrumental in creating the U.S. Navy, so it is possible that in the seascape background of the portrait Stuart also pays tribute to Hamilton.

About Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Crystal Bridges is envisioned as a premier national art institution dedicated to American art and artists, learning and community gatherings.  The museum takes its name from the unique glass-and-wood building design, created for the natural setting by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie.  The entire complex will encompass approximately 100,000 square feet of gallery, library, meeting, and office space, a 250-seat indoor auditorium, areas for outdoor concerts and public events, gallery rooms suitable for large receptions, as well as sculpture gardens and walking trails.

The museum will house a permanent collection of masterworks from American artists along with galleries dedicated to Native American and regional art and artists.  The growing permanent collection is composed of paintings and sculptures by American artists from the Colonial period through the modern era and will consist of numerous notable paintings, including: Gilbert Stuart’s “George Washington” (The Constable-Hamilton Portrait); portraitist Charles Willson Peale’s 18th century painting of a confident George Washington completed near the end of the Revolutionary War; and Hudson River School masterwork “Kindred Spirits” by Asher B. Durand. Other artists and works represented include Charles Bird King’s early 19th century portraits of American Indian leaders; and Winslow Homer’s depictions of the interplay between man and nature.

In addition to the permanent collection, temporary exhibitions drawn from national institutions will be displayed in the museum. 

The 100-acre site of the museum complex and cultural center is located in Bentonville, Ark.  The project is scheduled to open in 2009.  For more information about Crystal Bridges, visit

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MFAH Hours and Admission
The Audrey Jones Beck Building of the MFAH is located at 5601 Main Street.  The museum is open to the public Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday
and Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Sunday from 12:15-7 p.m.  The museum is closed on Monday, except for holidays.  General admission is $7 for adults and $3.50 for children 6-18, students, and senior adults (65+); admission is free for museum members, Glassell School students, and children 5 and under.  Admission is free on Thursday, courtesy of Shell Oil Company Foundation.  Admission also is free on Saturday and Sunday for children 18 and under with a Houston Public Library Power Card or a Harris County Public Library Card.  For more information, call 713-639-7300.  For information in Spanish, call 713-639-7379. TDD/TYY for the hearing impaired, call 713-639-7390. For membership information, call 713-639-7550 or e-mail

MFAH Parking
The museum’s parking garage is in the MFAH Visitors Center, located at 5600 Fannin Street at Binz Street (entrance on Binz).  Free parking is available in two lots on Main Street, at Bissonnet and at Oakdale.

Cafe Express-Museum
Cafe Express-Museum offers convenient dining in the Beck Building of the MFAH. Hours are Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.  

MFAH Collections
Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is the largest art museum in America south of Chicago, west of Washington, D.C., and east of Los Angeles. The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH numbers more than 57,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present. Featured are the finest artistic examples of the major civilizations of Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Africa. Italian Renaissance paintings, French Impressionist works, photographs, American and European decorative arts, African and Pre-Columbian gold, American art, and European and American paintings and sculpture from post-1945 are particularly strong holdings. Recent additions to the collections include Rembrandt van Rijn’s Portrait of a Young Woman (1633), the Heiting Collection of Photography, a major suite of Gerhard Richter paintings, an array of important works by Jasper Johns, a rare, second-century Hellenistic bronze Head of Poseidon/Antigonos Doson, and major canvases by 19th-century painters Gustave Courbet and J.M.W. Turner.

MFAH Campus
The MFAH collections are presented in six locations that make up the institutional complex. Together, these facilities provide a total of 300,000 square feet of space dedicated to the display of art. The MFAH comprises:

Two major museum buildings: the Caroline Wiess Law Building, designed by Mies van der Rohe, and the Audrey Jones Beck Building, designed by Rafael Moneo

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• Two facilities for the Glassell School of Art: one with studio spaces for children and another with studio spaces for adults
• Two house museums that exhibit decorative arts: Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens features American works, Rienzi features European works
• The Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, created by Isamu Noguchi

Complementing the public exhibition spaces is a major on-site conservation center where artworks are conserved prior to presentation.

General Information: For information, the public may call 713-639-7300, or visit For information in Spanish, call 713-639-7379.

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