Catherine Brass Yates (Mrs. Richard Yates)
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More about Catherine Brass Yates (Mrs. Richard Yates)

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Despite the centuries of privilege and prominence associated with having one’s portrait painted, you can all but hear Mrs. Yates ask Gilbert Stuart, “Really? You again?”

Americans have never been known for our elegance, especially when it comes to art. Just look at the awkward and stiff early portraits by John Trumbull and Thomas Sully. It should come as no surprise that, even with the prowess that he developed in Europe, Stuart’s dignified portraiture went over Americans’ heads. It might look like Mrs. Yates is coyly posing with some personal objects, but her face says it all – she is over it. Coupled with her bored expression, Mrs. Yates is also working on some sewing so that sitting for Stuart’s portrait does not waste her precious time. Although her sewing may represent the work ethic and high moral standards associated with early American society, it's also a little rude. 

Stuart painted more than one thousand portraits over his entire career. However, his paintings of Europeans and Americans are vastly different. Painfully literal, Americans were more interested in having Stuart paint them accurately, rather than flatteringly. This explains the serious and dismissive looks that both Mrs. Yates and her husband, Richard Yates, offer us.

Seated at his desk with a pile of papers, Mr. Yates similarly deigns to take a break from his work to pose for a portrait that he probably paid a lot of money for. He and his illustrious family members ran a trading company called Yates & Pollock that dealt and imported European and West Indian goods. The Yates family was well-to-do enough to be a part of Stuart’s overarching scheme for fame and fortune. In quite the feat of social-climbing upon his return to the United States, Stuart painted his way through the upper echelons of American society, ultimately reaching his goal of gaining entrée to George Washington’s realm. 

Even with the sour puss looks, the Yates portraits ultimately accomplished their goals. Years later, these portraits continued to bring Stuart notoriety. After its first public exhibition in 1922, critics compared this painting to the arresting portraits of such titans as Diego Velázquez and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Perhaps these compliments would’ve made Mrs. Yates crack a smile.



  1. Barratt, Carrie Rebora. “Gilbert Stuart (1755 – 1828).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The American Wing. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. October 2003. Accessed 22 September 2020.
  2. Miles, Ellen G. American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century. National Gallery of Art, 1995. Accessed 22 September 2020.
  3. National Gallery of Art. “Catherine Brass Yates (Mrs. Richard Yates).” Collection. Accessed 22 September 2020.
  4. Smithsonian Institution. “Mrs. Richard Yates.” Smithsonian American Art Museum. Artworks. Accessed 22 September 2020.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Catherine Brass Yates

Catherine Brass Yates is an oil-on-canvas painting undertaken in 1793–94 by the American artist Gilbert Stuart, depicting Catherine Brass Yates, the wife of Richard Yates, a New York merchant.


The painting shows Catherine Brass Yates, the wife of Richard Yates, a New York merchant; it was painted in oil on canvas in 1793–94. Stuart painted a portrait of Richard in the same period. Timothy Cahill, the editor of Art Conservator magazine considers that the Portrait of Mrs Richard Yates is "regarded as among the finest American portraits ever made".

On returning to the United States from England and Ireland in 1793, Stuart found that the type of portrait in demand differed from those he had painted in Europe. The Yankee merchants' taste was for realism, so he portrays Catherine Yates, with her bony face and appraising glance, as too busy with her sewing to take time off to pose for the artist. Using different paint mediums and paying meticulous attention to detail, he employs a variety of techniques for the fabrics, sewing implements, wedding ring, skin tones, and fingernails.

The painting was acquired in 1940 by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The gallery consider that Stuart's painting is "one of his most compelling and unified efforts at conveying character", and "one of America's most famous paintings, both as an artistic masterpiece and as a visual symbol of the early republic's rectitude". "The painter, Stuart used the stiff angular lines of Mrs. Yates’ silhouette so that he could communicate her capability and sharpness". "The surfaces of the painting also showed the virtuosity that Stuart had, for example the reflections of the coral upholstery".

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Catherine Brass Yates.