The remarkable portrait that serves as the frontispiece of this book was undertaken by Gilbert Stuart in 1825, fifty years after Josiah Quincy Jr.’s death. Stuart had moved to Boston from Washington in July, 1805, and would live in Boston until his death in 1828.1

In 1806, Stuart had painted portraits of Quincy’s son, Josiah Quincy (1772–1864, “the President”) and his son’s wife, Eliza Susan Morton Quincy.2 These paintings are now in the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and the Milwaukee Art Museum, respectively. In 1824, the son would sit again for Stuart, the result being the magnificent portrait of the son before the façade of the Quincy market. It is a treasure of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art 2004–2005 exhibition.3 This portrait was intended to be a gift for Eliza Susan Quincy, his daughter and Josiah Quincy Jr.’s granddaughter and biographer.4

While painting this portrait, Stuart heard much about “the Patriot” from Josiah Quincy Jr.’s adoring son and, particularly, from his granddaughter and biographer, Eliza Susan Quincy. George Mason’s The Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart (New York, 1894), (hereafter, “Mason”) quotes from a letter of Eliza’s:

To the deep regret of the family, there is no portrait of my grandfather, Josiah Quincy, Jr. [He was born in Boston, February, 1744, and died at sea, near the entrance to Gloucester Harbor, April 26th, 1775.] There was an engraving that his widow, Mrs. Abigail Quincy, considered an excellent likeness. This print Stuart had declined to copy; but after reading the memoir of J. Quincy, Jr., published in 1825, he said: “I must paint the portrait of that man,” and requested that the print, and the portrait of his brother, Samuel Quincy, by Copley, should be sent to his studio.

Josiah Quincy, “the Colonel” (1710–1784), by John Singleton Copley (c. 1769). Courtesy of the Dietrich Foundation for American Art.

Stuart expressed a wish to see the family portraits at Quincy, and on the 1st of October, 1825, came here with Mr. I. P. Davis. As he entered the house my father said: “Here is a family, Mr. Stuart, who are looking to you for a head.” He appeared much pleased, and said: “It is seventeen years since I was here last, and I am very glad to find myself here again.” He admired the portrait of Colonel Josiah Quincy, of Braintree, painted by Copley in 1769.


These reminiscences were interrupted by the entrance of Mr. John Quincy Adams, who had arrived the day previous, on a visit to his father, for the first time as President of the United States, and who had that morning accepted an invitation from Mr. Quincy to dine at his house and meet Mr. Stuart. Mr. Adams was in fine spirits, gave Mr. Stuart a cordial greeting, and conversed with animation.


Mr. Stuart painted the portrait of Josiah Quincy, Jr., without delay, and soon requested his sister [This was Josiah Quincy Junior’s sister Hannah (1736–1826) who married as her second husband Ebenezer Storer (1730—1807) in 1777.], Mrs. Storer, then eighty years of age [actually 89], to come and see it. She thought a good likeness had been obtained, and made some criticisms, which were adopted. According to his promise, Mr. Stuart finished the portrait in November, and on the morning of Thanksgiving day, when Mrs. Quincy requested it, he sent it to Hamilton place (then the winter residence of the family), saying: “There, take your picture, and I hope you will all be happy together.”5

Samuel Quincy (1735–1789) by John Singleton Copley (c. 1789). Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Subsequently, the portrait hung for sixteen years in the President’s House at Harvard College.6

Mrs. Storer, “the Patriot’s” sister, would have been an excellent judge of her brother’s appearance. In addition, three ancient witnesses who did know Quincy saw the portrait and declared it an excellent likeness. Eliza continued:

After regarding this portrait steadily for some time, the late Jonathan Mason, of Boston, who studied law in the office of J. Quincy, Jr., in 1770, said: “Stuart has given you seven-eighths of a likeness;” and it was also recognized by two of his other contemporaries who had seen him in London in 1774.7

Daniel Webster, among many others, loved the painting. Eliza’s letter tells this story:

In May, 1829, when Mr. Webster brought Mr. Wirt to visit Mrs. Quincy, he advanced to the portrait and said: “Mr. Wirt, Josiah Quincy, Jr., of whom you have heard so much,” as if he were introducing them to each other. Mr. Wirt also approached the picture and said: “It is not the spirit that vapors within these walls,” etc., and recited Mr. Quincy’s speech in the Old South, on the 16th of December, 1773—the night of the destruction of tea in Boston harbor.8

According to Eliza’s letter, the painting was delivered on Thanksgiving Day, November, 1825. By March, 1826, Stuart became so weak that painting was terribly difficult. Thomas Perkins wrote on 12 March 1826, that Stuart was really unable to complete the full-length portrait of John Quincy Adams. “I fear this poor fellow will not live to paint another …”9 That picture “inevitably … remained a head, left isolated, high up on a large bare canvas.”10 Consequently, the Josiah Quincy Jr. portrait was one of Stuart’s last completed works. Stuart died on July 9, 1828.

Josiah Quincy, “the President” (1772–1864), by Gilbert Stuart (1824–1825). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The portrait is particularly remarkable for its candid treatment of Quincy’s disability, strabismus, a crossed or turned eye. (Quincy may also have a related disorder, amblyodia, or “lazy eye,” the two conditions often being linked.) Stuart made no effort to disguise the disability, which adds to the dignity and courageous quality of the portrait. This treatment can be compared to Raphael’s great portrait of Count Tommaso Inghirami (1470–1516), who also had strabismus. See Hilliard T. Goldfarb, The Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum: A Companion Guide and History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), pp. 63, 66.

The background of the painting is also of great symbolic significance, showing volumes labeled “Algernon Sidney,” “Bacon’s Works,” and “Locke’s Works.” This was a direct reference to Quincy’s will, which read: “I give to my son, when he shall arrive at the age of fifteen years, Algernon Sidney’s works, John Locke’s works, Lord Bacon’s works, Gordon’s Tacitus, and Cato’s Letters. May the spirit of Liberty rest upon him.” As will be seen, Sidney, Bacon and Locke all featured in Quincy’s political and legal writing, and Bacon’s theory of learning by maxims had a strong influence on Quincy’s Law Commonplace. Clearly his proud son directed Stuart to memorialize both the intellectual influence and the bequest through the portrait.

From Stuart’s death on, the painting has always been held in high esteem. It was exhibited as No. 153 in exhibition of Stuart’s portraits in Boston in 1828. Lawrence Park reproduced the painting as a full-page illustration to his classic Gilbert Stuart: An Illustrated Descriptive List of his Works, No. 684, pp. 627–628, and it was also reproduced as a full-page illustration to the Legal Papers of John Adams (L. Kinvin Wroth and Hiller B. Zobel, eds., Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965), vol. 3, illustration 9 facing p. 196.

The portrait is now at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, No. l-r37.1981. The Colonial Society is grateful to the Museum for permission to reproduce this painting, and to John F. Cogan Jr., an extraordinary patron of the arts, for his kind interest in this project.

Daniel R. Coquillette