John Adams
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More about John Adams

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You might be wondering who painted this smug portrait of John Adams - arms crossed, smirk on his face, the look of a guy who clearly knows he’s president...And for a long time, everyone was wondering who painted it.

This portrait of John Adams remained unidentified for a long period of time, passing from John Adams himself to the Boston Athanaeum in 1826 with no record of the artist and no signature appearing on the piece. Eventually art historian Ellen Miles cracked the mystery of its origin when she found out that Abigail Adams had commissioned Stuart to paint a portrait of both Abigail and John in 1800. Stuart was a notorious procrastinator, to the worst degree, and it then took him a whopping fifteen years to finish the already commissioned portraits.

It makes sense that this portrait was done by Stuart, the trendiest portraitist of his time in the United States, his fame as a portraitist rivaled only by John Singleton Copley. Stuart painted a laundry list of famous people during the era, including Presidents James Monroe and George Washington. The portrait, along with that of Abigail and thirteen of Stuart’s other works, has only recently been refurbished as a part of a big Stuart-centric conservation effort.

Adams was the United States’ first vice president, who then served as the President in 1796 with Thomas Jefferson, his runner-up, friend, and co-writer of the Declaration of Independence, as his V.P. During Adams' presidency the United States found itself stuck in the middle of a war between the French and British, who both asked that the United States assist them against the other. He then passed the Sedition Act, policing alien citizens who were loyal to other countries. The act was later ruled unconstitutional and Adams enlisted a series of “midnight judges” just before Jefferson’s presidency began. Jefferson then spent a large chunk of time trying to undo the appointed judges and re-appoint new ones. Many look on Adams' tactful withholding of the United States from the war between the British and the French as his greatest achievement as president. John and Abigail Adams were also the first occupants of the White House, living to see their son, John Quincy, become the sixth president of the United States.




  1. "John Adams, Ca. 1815, by Gilbert Stuart." The Bloody Massacre | Boston Athenæum. Accessed December 31, 2018.
  2. Lusted, Marcia Amidon. "2 John Adams: 1797-1801: Federalist." Cobblestone, March 2015, 8 . General OneFile (accessed December 31, 2018).
  3. “Portraits of george washington and john adams among 16 masterpieces by gilbert stuart from national gallery of art collection being conserved...” Targeted News Service. July 2, 2012. Accessed December 31, 2018.