I’m thinking of the John Adams portrait by Gilbert Stuart from 1826, not your normal Friday night thought – I understand that. But that portrait is one of the paintings that pops into my mind every so often.
When I think of that picture I think of accomplishment, I think of acceptance, I think of openness. Stuart painted Adams before, and while good, the earlier portrait is not hypnotic like the later one. Stuart’s technique was the same but the person sitting was not. At the end of his life what I see is contentment of choices. I see a person who failed in some ways and succeeded in others. He is a man not afraid of opinion or history’s record of him he is looking straight into the future knowing he did his best.
I first saw the portrait as a reproduction and I loved it then, but when I saw the original it got saturated into my soul. It did what good portraits do - depicts the message within the person as well as the likeness. The John Adams is a perfect example of that in my opinion. He is old, his hand curled around the top of a cane, he’s sitting a bit canted but looking forward. He looks at me and lets me know that he may be close to death but his life is not over. There is precision in his look and experience in his manor and Stuart captured it all, I suspect because Adams let him.
I’ve always wondered what Adams was thinking as he sat there and Stuart painted. Was he remembering his life or thinking of summer? Was he thinking of nothing and maybe just being. That feels right…he’s just being.
Maybe this picture comes to mind when I need some time to be.