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The Stuart Solution

July 2024
1min read

As we reported in the “Letter From the Editor” in our February/March issue this year, many of the citizens of Boston were at loggerheads with the Smithsonian Institution throughout 1979. At issue was the fate of the famous Gilbert Stuart portraits of George and Martha Washington, owned by the Boston Athenaeum since 1831 and on display at the Boston Museum since 1871. In 1978, the Athenaeum, fallen upon hard times, put the paintings up for sale; the Smithsonian, wanting to place them on permanent display in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, agreed to pay $5,000,000; concerned Bostonians, led by General James M. Gavin, declared it improper that the portraits should leave Boston and attempted to raise the money to keep them there.

On February 7, 1980, we are happy to say, a compromise was reached. The Athenaeum lowered its price to $4,875,000, and it was agreed that the paintings would be owned jointly by the Portrait Gallery and the Boston Museum—the gallery paying $2,750,000 for its share, the museum $2,125,000 for its share. And George and Martha will divide their time—spending the next three years in Washington, followed by three in Boston.

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