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 James Reeve Stuart  (1834 - 1915)

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Lived/Active: Wisconsin/South Carolina      Known for: portrait, genre-views and still-life painting, teaching

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James Reeve Stuart
An example of work by James Reeve Stuart
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
James Reeve Stuart, well-trained portrait painter and teacher, was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, to one of the wealthiest families in the Antebellum South. Ancestors fled from Scotland, and one of them, John, was Superintendent of Indian Affairs of the Southern Colonies.

The Stuart family owned several of the wealthiest plantations in the sea island area of South Carolina, and Stuart's parents owned the Ferry Plantation and it's Mansion "Roupelmonde" on Port Royal Island, adjacent to the Port Royal Ferry.  Stuart's father, Colonel Middleton Stuart, died in 1840, and young Jimmie's education and upbringing was left to his many uncles.

His uncle, Bishop Stephen Elliott, and another uncle, John Barnwell encouraged Jimmie to pursue his interest in art.  He attended Harvard College, and while in Boston, with an introduction by way of Senator Barnwell, studied under Joseph Ames.

After graduating from Harvard, Jimmie, as he was known, traveled to Europe to continue his studies in art.  In 1859, James Reeve Stuart became the second American to be accepted to study art at the prestigious Royal Academy in Munich, Germany.  His European studies were shortened by South Carolina's secession from the Union and the resulting four-year Civil War.

He returned to Beaufort and enlisted in the Confederacy with the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery and later the South Carolina Engineers.  During the Civil War years, he painted several portraits including his uncle, Bishop Stephen Elliott, General Leonidas Polk, and founders of the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee.  He also painted Bishop Elliott's son, Brigadeer General Stephen Elliott, that hangs in the Museum of the Confederacy at Richmond.

After the war, the Stuart family lost almost everything.  Two of his brothers were killed in the war; the Ferry Plantation and "Rouplemonde" were totally destroyed when used as the battleground at the "Battle of Port Royal Ferry."

Stuart opened a studio in Savannah and much to his surprise, made $1500.00 in just six months.  He decided art would be his career.  In 1867 he traveled to St. Louis, Missouri and opened another studio.  He would remain in St. Louis for the next five years.  During his St. Louis years, he traveled the Midwest, painting portraits on commission.

One of his trips, in 1872, took him to Madison, Wisconsin.  His autobiography states he was so attracted by the "quiet charm" of Wisconsin's capital city that he "abandoned the dust and cold of St. Louis" he knew he was home.

Stuart spent the remainder of his life, the next forty-two years, in Madison, except for trips to South Carolina or study in Europe.

Stuart became an Artist in Residence at the University of Wisconsin.  He also taught art at Milwaukee College.  He is listed as an early Cream of Wheat* advertising art illustrator.  More than thirty-five of his portraits are in the State Historical Society Museum and several more hang in the State Capitol Building in Madison.

Stuart died December 23, 1915 and is buried in Madison.

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:
Portraitist James Reeve Stuart was thoroughly a product of the antebellum South. He was born and raised in Beaufort, South Carolina, the son of a well-to-do cotton planter.  As such, he participated in the gracious, cultivated lifestyle of his class and milieu.  He attended school in Beaufort, while during the months of December and April he pursued the carefree life of horseback riding, shooting, hunting, and fishing at Rouplemonds, his family's plantation on Port Royal Island.

Born February 9, 1834, Stuart traced his ancestry through South Carolina's leading families.  His father was Middleton Stuart, son of the physician James Stuart and Anne Middleton.  His mother was Mary Howe Barnwell, daughter of John Gibbes Barnwell and Sarah Bull, and great granddaughter of a royal governor of the colony of Carolina.  Middleton not only was a successful planter, but also a man of prominence in state and local affairs.  He represented Beaufort in the South Carolina legislature, served as captain of the Beaufort Guards and was a colonel in the state militia.  Upon his death in 1840, he left his wife and six small children well provided for.  James, the future portraitist, was then only six years of age.

Stuart's education was typical of that of a son of South Carolina's planter class. Upon completing his studies at a Beaufort academy, he attended the College of South Carolina at Columbia for a semester in 1852.  From there he went on to the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, where according to his adult recollection, he had "a number of cousins and friends."  To enliven the barren white walls of his dormitory room, he drew huge figures from Milton's Paradise Lost directly upon them with coal from his fireplace.  They brought him the attention and encouragement of D'Alphonse, the University's teacher of French, athletics, and drawing.  Stuart did not complete his studies in Charlottesville; rather, the following year found him a scholar in the Scientific Department of Harvard University.  He spent Saturdays drawing from the plaster casts of antique sculpture in the Boston Athenaeum and gazing upon Belshazzar's Feast, a painting by fellow South Carolinian Washington Allston, which hung there.  Through a friend of his uncle's, he was introduced to the Boston portraitist Joseph Ames. Stuart received valuable informal advice in coloring from this artist.

Stuart's career was off to a slow start.  Returning to South Carolina, he taught English at his alma mater in Beaufort and worked in a Savannah counting house. However, the desire to become an artist had taken a firm hold upon him and he decided to seek academic training abroad.  With his cousin Robert Barnwell he sailed for La Havre from Charleston aboard a cotton packet.  He enrolled in the art academy at Karlsruhe, where he studied under DeCoudre.  He also visited the art centers of Munich and Dresden and toured Cologne, Hanover, Saxony, and Berlin in his two years on the continent.

Stuart abruptly terminated his studies and arranged to return home when he learned that the War Between the States had begun.  He joined an artillery company at Beaufort and was posted to the defense of South Carolina's sea islands.  He also served in the Confederate Corps of Engineers, where he was assigned to mapping and drawing "the seat of war," the islands and waterways of Beaufort and Port Royal.

After the war Stuart joined his mother and brother who had taken refuge in central Georgia.  He opened a studio in Augusta, where, he recalled, "queer enough," he made about $1,500 in six months from painting portraits.  Encouraged by his success, he tried to establish himself in Beaufort, but at the time there was no market for pictures there.  He subsequently tried to establish himself in Memphis, Tennessee, but met a similarly discouraging outcome.

In 1868, Stuart took a steamer from Memphis to St. Louis.  He bought a studio for $20.00 furnished it with his easel, two chairs, and a table, and began to take orders for portraits.  He found a good business there as well as many South Carolinians who befriended him, but St. Louis itself was not to his liking.  He spent summers painting portraits in Iowa City, Lexington, Kentucky, and, in 1872, Madison, Wisconsin.  Madison appealed to him immensely, and he moved there permanently in January 1873.

Stuart taught at Milwaukee College and the University of Wisconsin, but he remained better known as a portrait painter all of his life.  Portraits by him are in the collections of the Wisconsin State Historical Museum, the State Capitol of Wisconsin, and the University of Wisconsin.

Stuart married after he had settled in Madison.  He and Mary Hall Jacob, a Louisville, Kentucky widow, were wed in January 1876.  After her death, he married Theodora Antill Tappan, by whom he had four children. Stuart died in Madison on December 23, 1915.

James R. Stuart. Autobiography. Manuscript in the Library of the Chicago Historical Society.

This essay is copyrighted by the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from Hicklin Galleries, LLC.

Biography from The Johnson Collection:
James Reeve Stuart was descended from a distinguished South Carolina clan whose members included colonial governors and Charleston aristocrats. He spent his childhood in the ancestral mansion, Rouplemonde, at Ferry Plantation, both of which were devastated during the Battle of Port Royal Ferry in 1862, destroying the family's fortunes. He enrolled in the College of South Carolina at Columbia in 1852 before moving on to the University of Virginia in 1853; this coursework was followed by advanced classes in the department of scientific studies at Harvard University from which he graduated in 1854. During Stuart's time in Boston, he often drew from antique models at the Boston Athenaeum and is known to have worked with the portrait artist Joseph Alexander Ames.

In 1854, Stuart returned to South Carolina, teaching English at Beaufort Academy and later attending to his family's interests as a cotton factor in Savannah, Georgia. His continued determination to become an artist prompted an 1859 journey to Germany where he studied at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe. Although Stuart is reputed to have returned home in response to the outbreak of the Civil War, he did not join up with Confederate forces until April 12, 1862 when he enlisted as a private in the Ninth South Carolina Infantry. In that capacity and later as an officer in the Corps of Engineers, he was charged with the defense of the coastline, especially the area around Port Royal, near his familial home. In the years after the war, Stuart began to work as an itinerant portrait artist with varying success in Savannah and Augusta, Georgia; Memphis, Tennessee; Iowa City, Iowa; Lexington, Kentucky; and Madison, Wisconsin. He ultimately settled in Madison in 1873, where he quickly became the most popular portraitist of the leading civic and social figures of the day, and instructed students at the University of Wisconsin. Even in his latter years, Stuart played a vital role in the Madison art scene, serving as curator for the State Historical Society and a founding member of the Studio Club.

It was during Stuart's time in St. Louis that he painted this portrait of General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson (January 21, 1824-May 10, 1863), the Confederate martyr of the Battle of Chancellorsville and a figure of romantic adulation. It may have been executed on commission for a Southern loyalist or on speculation with hopes for its sale in the city's bustling Pettes & Leathe gallery. Likely modeled on a widely circulated photograph taken just two weeks before the general's death, Stuart presents Jackson in a full-length grand manner stance. The subject's profile is flattened against the planar field even as his body is slightly contrapposto, his commanding presence accentuated by the merest suggestion of wind rippling his cape. There are no known life portraits of Jackson.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

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James Stuart is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Civil War Art

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