Joseph Priestley

In the late 1790s at the behest of the American Philosophical Society, the American artist, Gilbert Stuart (1756-1828), began working on an oil portrait of Joseph Priestley, the famous English chemist and political dissident who had recently settled in the United States. Stuart’s half-length portrait showed Priestley wearing a white stock and dark vest and jacket, his head turned slightly to his right, his hair parted in the middle and hanging low on his neck.
Although he had received American funds for this project, Stuart sold the portrait to T. B. Barclay, an Englishman who visited his Boston studio. After taking the painting to his home near Liverpool, Barclay hired an English artist named William Artaud to complete the parts that Stuart had left unfinished. He also let Artaud make three oil copies of the portrait. One copy came into the possession of Priestley’s descendants in Pennsylvania, and it was from this that American artist, Albert Rosenthal (1863-1939), made this copy. The American Chemical Society presented to the Smithsonian in 1921.
Ref: Henry C. Bolton, ed., The Scientific Correspondence of Joseph Priestley (New York, 1892), pp. 177-179.
Robert E. Schofield, The Enlightened Joseph Priestley (University Park, Pa., 2004).
Edgar Fahs Smith to Albert Rosenthal, Oct. 28, 1921, in Albert Rosenthal papers, Archives of American Art.
Charles M. Mount, “Gilbert Stuart in Washington: With a Catalogue of his Portraits Painted between December 1803 and July 1805,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society 71-72 (1972): 81-127, on pp. 103, 119.
Currently not on view
Object Name
overall: 36 in x 31 in; 91.44 cm x 78.74 cm
overall: 37 1/2 in x 32 in x 27 1/2 in; 95.25 cm x 81.28 cm x 69.85 cm
place made
United States: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Prints from the Physical Sciences Collection
Science & Mathematics
Joseph Priestley
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Prints from the Physical Sciences Collection
Joseph Priestley
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
American Chemical Society
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