Art: The Crusade to Save Those Stuarts

Although it was never finished, it became the most familiar portrait in America. An engraving of it stares serenely from every current $1 bill.* The artist, besieged by requests for his work, churned out at least 70 replicas in his lifetime; countless copiers followed in his brush strokes. The painting is, of course, George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, one of only three Washington portraits painted from life by colonial America's gifted and prolific artist.

For a century and a half, the portrait of George and a matching Stuart of Martha have belonged to the Athenaeum, a private library in Boston-and, in patriotic...

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