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Treasures of the White House: Dolley Madison

Treasures of the White House: Dolley Madison


This handsome portrait was painted by the celebrated artist, Gilbert Stuart, during his stay in Washington, 1803-1805. The great demand for the artist during this visit prompted a friend of Dolley Madison's to report that "Stuart is all the rage. He is almost worked to death, and everyone afraid they will be the last to be finished."

Dolley Madison, portrayed with her hair arranged in a neoclassical style and wearing a fashionable high-waisted Empire-style dress, was the popular wife of James Madison, then Secretary of State under President Thomas Jefferson. She often served as hostess at the White House for the widowed President.

In a letter to her sister, Anna Cutts, who was also painted by Stuart in 1804, Dolley Madison wrote, "Steward has taken an admirable picture of Mr. Madison - his and mine are finished." James Madison commissioned the portrait of his wife along with a companion likeness of himself for the Madison's Virginia home, Montpelier. They hung in the drawing room of their home until after James Madison's death in 1836. The pair of portraits later hung in her home on Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C.

Following Mrs. Madison's death in 1849, the Madison portraits became the property of her son, Payne Todd. They were sold at auction in Washington. D.C., in March 1851, along with many of her other possessions. Anna Payne Causten, Mrs. Madison's niece, and her husband purchased the portrait of Dolley Madison. Following their deaths, the painting was left to their daughter, Mary Causten Kunkel. It was sold at auction in Philadelphia, on May 9, 1899, by Mrs. Kunkel and acquired by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1970, the Academy lent the portrait of Mrs. Madison to the White House. It was acquired for the White House collection in 1994.

Source: Office of the Curator, The White House

Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828)
Oil on canvas, 1804, 29 3/16 x 24 1/8 in.
Gift of the Walter H. and Phyllis J. Shorenstein Foundation in memory of Phyllis J. Shorenstein, 1994